I take the stance that, in a game as ambitious as Eve Online, set in a huge collection of star systems inhabited by trillions of people, you can expect to derive part of your pleasure from experiencing unique adventures and meeting unique characters. For the most part, that expectation is met. Each system bears an individual name and features his specific set of planets, moons, asteroid belts and man-made objects. When player characters first appear in this universe, they do so in different star systems, according to their lineage and background.
But then, there are limits to the number of different objects designers will be able and willing to put in a game, and these limits define priorities. First, differentiating player characters allows players to associate their identity to their character and begin the process of immersion in a social multiplayer environment. Then, differentiating star systems allows, among other things, the existence of territorialist feelings at the root of player-versus-player combat. And so on. However, there are still to this day ways in which the designers can enhance the wondrous feeling that, by logging on, you will have the opportunity to live an adventure unlike any other; meaning that nobody will have encountered the exact same circumstances and that the story will truly be yours - not an industrial object designed for the faceless gaming mob.
The mechanics suggested here aim to deepen the connection between the player characters and the universe they live in. They are just a sample. What matters is the guiding principle explained above.
1. Random name generators
Let's say you decide to perform missions for a corporate agent. You obviously seem to be very special. In fact, this agent trusts you so much that, following his or her instructions, you get to save the princess. You feel good. Later, you discuss with other capsuleers and discover that they, too, saved this princess. They also killed the scoundrel named Kruul. (In fact, they also have a strand of Kruul's DNA in their cargohold. Most probably, there are enough DNA strands of Kruul stashed all over New Eve to allow us to consider Kruul not as a mere man, but as a god or an allegory of all that is scoundrelness and loss of genetic material. I would not be surprised to hear about cults trying to piece those bits together for nefarious purposes.)
Couldn't 'Kruul' be more like a title? Or, rather, could this rogue be given a different name each time players get to dispatch him? Random name generators are probably easy to design, and painful to implement.
2. NPC with a life
The same logic applies to the many non-player characters (npc) dubbed 'mission agents'. They stick to the same space station year after year, never promoted or demoted. What if, depending on their successes, they get to move in better or worse positions? What if some of them are traitors? When the moment is good, they would feed you wrong intel and send you to certain death, unless you had had the sense to see it coming and stop your relationship with them when the risk became too big? And when you come back to avenge yourself, you realise they have already disappeared and are now working for an enemy faction. (One of my old gamemasters for the Shadowrun tabletop roleplaying game used to secretly roll a dice before each mission. On a '1', the agent would betray us. That is a nifty idea, as long as you have a way to make a series of interesting choices along the way, as would say Sid Meier.)
Dialogues could use some variety, too. Players are not inclined to read them at the moment, besides the title and a few key words (like "Guristas" or "Serpentis"), since they provide no useful information once you have access to a mission database. Randomising the texts will not change that fact. What we need is the texts to provide loads of information, different each time. All of a sudden, it becomes important to pay attention. Will this agent betray you? Is his intel reliable? Is he actually hinting that you might receive double bonus if this mission is quickly performed, or is he just teasing?
Some agents should betray you. Really. And you would be able to guess the risks and make choices or bets, finding the better balance between greed and safety.
3. "Encrypted leaks" and other items
Let us remember Kruul and his strand of DNA. If we change Kruul's name, we need to change the name of the item he drops. Each and every time. This kind of task might wreck the brains of a developer team. If it is possible, it also opens a world of exciting ideas and possibilities. If every Kruul-like villain is allowed to drop his own brand of DNA, why not every player character? Then, in which circumstances? Some player activites could generate items, voluntarily or not. Now, that is fine and beautiful, but what would be the point? For once, allowing roleplayers and scammers to seed the world with meaningful items. These items could provide more pretexts to interact with other players and the rest of the universe. Giving ways to mechanically interact with these items would be the next big step.
For example, many players enjoy Eve Online as an espionage game. Few pieces of information are as strategic as the location and delivery time of a supercapital being built. Spies are always trying to know about it, the same way one of the prime responsibilities of real life intelligence agencies is to evaluate the capacity of foreign countries to build and deploy strategic weapons (nukes). What about giving the player spies who are more of the Sherlock variety and less of the social engineering one something more to toy with in game? Building a titan or mothership would automatically create a series of items which, when gathered, would give valuable information about the work in progress. These items, let us call them "encrypted leaks", could for example be found in the wrecks of ships piloted by capsuleers with important roles in the corporation involved (directors, CEO, etc). These encrypted leaks would be sellable. Of course, a set of skills could prevent, minimise and distort most of the leaks. Another skill could help preserve an encrypted leak long after its normal lifespan. I can envision an army of small-time spies trying to gather crucial data to evaluate the enemy's surcapital production, or destroy the items, depending on the side. Intelligence agencies, such as the Federal Intelligence Office (FIO) in the Gallente Federation, would place buy orders for all information about "enemy forces".
Other encrypted leaks could be found in the wrecks of belt pirates and give hints about the trustworthiness of mission agents (see "npc with a life"), enticing ratters, traders and missioners to interact more and enjoy a more varied gameplay.
Some skills should allow to modify the nature of some items. For example, a skill could allow to transform slaves into free men. Another one could allow anybody with a reserve of Vitoc to transform free men (tourists, militants, whatever) into slaves. All of a sudden, flavour items would get much more meaningful.
Of course, I have no clear idea of the hardware and development resources that creating such a world of diverse items would require. Untold numbers of new items are bound to strain the database. Having these items disappear after a while, the same way cans do in space, might help to alleviate this issue.
To sum up, the game mechanics I am looking forward to see will not necessarily expand the scope of the game, but deepen the level of possible interaction available between existing elements.
Check other Eve Blog Banter articles on the same topic:
- CrazyKinux's Musing, EVE Blog Banter #8: Care for a little game of SecWars?
- The Wandering Druid of Tranquility, Wow, that new thing is so shiny!!!
- I am Keith Nielson, EVE Blog Banter #8 - Return of the Top Gun
- Once More from the Beginning, 8th EVE Blog Banter May 2009 Edition
- A merry life and a short one, EVE Blog Banter #8: In the Year of Our Awesome
- Inner Sanctum of the Ninveah, Planets
- Helicity Boson, Bantering the blog
- Achernar, Unique adventures
- Ecliptic Rift, OOC: EVE Blog Banter 8: Standings and secondary factions
- The New Edener, EVE Blog Banter #8
- Journey to New Eden, Eve Blog Banter #8: What new mechanic should be added to Eve?
- Life, The Universe and Everything, Blog banter 8: mentorship
- EVE Guru, EBB 8: Yarr! Prepare to be boarded!
- The Ralpha Dogs, Greed Is Good, Greed Works
- Rifter Drifter, Blog Banter 8: Strategic Gunnery
- A Mule in EVE, Expanding EVE
- Letrange's EvE Blog, 8th Blog Banter
- Roc's Ramblings, Blog Banter #8
- The Nude Nerd, Blog Banter #8
- Scop's Log, Blog Banter #8: "We're caught in a tractor beam! It's pulling us in!"
- Speed Fairy, EVE Blog Banter #8: Charisma Tanking
- Industrialist with Teeth, EVE Blog Banter #8: It’s Like Tetris for OCD People
- Diary of a Pod Pilot, EVE blog banter #8: Killing in the name of
- Talk Unfraid, Physical Communications
- More to come...