EVE’s Universe and the Granularity of the Sandbox

3-Nov-13 — Leave a comment

Dust 514 is here, and Valkyrie is on its way. These two games offer us the opportunity to see the EVE universe at a whole new level of detail… But is the sandbox fully ready to support it?

The Past

Over the past ten years, we have become familiar with the size and shape of the EVE universe: Regions are broken down into constellations, constellations into solar systems, and solar systems into dynamic grids, a grid being the container for the various things that an EVE capsuleer may interact with such as planets to look at, outposts to dock in and other ships to shoot at.

A grid, in EVE online, is the game’s smallest unit of measure for defining a playable area of space, and as such it defines the scale and scope of the universe through a capsuleer’s eyes.

To get a better understanding of the effect this hierarchy has on the scale of the EVE universe, I invite you to watch Powers of Ten, a movie from 1977 that demonstrates the scale of our own universe, and consider that the scope of EVE Online (before Dust 514 came along) does not begin until 1 minute and 52 seconds in. Everything before that mark was “too small” for the scale that EVE was played on.

To be clear, solar systems in EVE Online were not originally broken down into planets. They were broken down into dynamic grids, from which planets were visible as background features. It’s not that planets were bigger or smaller than the game’s smallest playable area, it’s that they were off in the background and not a physical part of the game’s universe.

The Present

During Fanfest 2012, the concept of a planetary district was introduced. The following picture was included in the presentation to show us how the scope of the universe was to be expanded:

fanfest12-districts

And so, with the advent of Dust 514, many districts were seeded across New Eden. To a Dust 514 mercenary, these would be represented by playable maps that can currently span an area up to 5 square kilometres. To an EVE capsuleer, many new warp-in points were added around the existing “background” planets, each one effectively creating a static grid that corresponded to a Dust 514 district below.

In the Powers of Ten video linked above, we now find that the following segments of the clip are now within the scope of the EVE universe as a whole:

  • A single district as seen by a Dust 514 mercenary, spanning from the start of the video until about 1min 18secs
  • An entire planet as seen by an EVE capsuleer, spanning from about 1min 38secs onwards.

p10-examples

So the universe now has more detail…. But has it really become more granular? I would argue that it has not.

At the end of the day, we’re still dealing with a solar system that has been broken down into multiple grids. Each district is represented in EVE by a single grid immediately above it, and each EVE district corresponds to a single map in Dust 514. In other words, for each playable area in space, there is only one corresponding playable area in the ground. The universe, as seen by a mercenary, is no more or less granular than the same universe as seen by a capsuleer.

You would be forgiven for thinking that this means mercenaries and capsuleers both perceive the universe to be equally big… But they do not. A capsuleer must spend many hours of real world time carting their gear across space, and this time spent gives them an appreciate of scale and distance. Mercenaries are able to travel instantly anywhere in the universe in order to participate in a battle. There is no cooldown or other limitation on this mechanic, and all of their equipment travels with them each time they do so. For a mercenary, any corner of the universe can be reached in seconds, and so for them the universe is very, very small indeed. So small in fact, that distance and location have no meaning at all.

Doesn’t it seem strange that if each game is intended to be a window into the universe of New Eden, that the game intended for humans on the ground represents the universe at the same resolution as the one intended for enormous ships in space? Or that it also makes that seem universe appear even smaller than we’ve previously perceived it to be?

The Future

Dust 514 has plenty of room to grow, and nothing that has been released or announced so far precludes a solution to the issues outline so far. Conceptually, CCP does seem to perceive the universe in an extremely granular fashion. A look at their Future Vision trailer from 2011, or any of the lore they have put out over the many years, shows us that they are thinking at a level of individuals with histories and personalities. The potential is there, both in the product and in the company that is delivering it… But there is work to be done before that potential can be realised.

In my opinion, a single district should be as meaningful to a mercenary as an entire solar system is to a capsuleer. Where a solar system is currently filled with many playable areas (grids) accessible to a capsuleer, a district should be filled with many playable areas (battlefields) accessible to a mercenary. It should take a mercenary as long to travel between districts as it does a capsuleer to travel between solar systems. An entire planet should feel as big to a mercenary as a constellation does to a capsuleer!

There are analogues to the real world with my thinking here: You might catch a plane to a neighbouring state, and then a bus to a nearby city, and then finally you might get out and walk to your final destination. Even in the real world, different modes of travel operate on different scales, and getting to your final destination involves using successively smaller and smaller scales of travel until you find one that is granular enough to support your destination.

I believe the developers at CCP need to take a long hard look at how Dust 514 is currently representing New Eden, and how New Eden should appear from the point of view of a human standing on the surface of a planet. Specific suggestions on how to improve the scale and granularity of the universe to support Dust 514 and Valkyrie will be covered by future posts on this blog.

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