Implementing Ship Crews

EVE lore claims that each ship has a full crew. In practice, that’s not even close. The capsuleer alone pushes all the buttons with little feedback; flavor of gameplay does not make one feel like the captain of a ship. Being a fighter jockey in a frigate is pretty sweet, and big ships cool factor comes from feeling large. Part of this is the feeling of the command deck. Think about the drama that occurred on the Enterprise’s bridge or the Battlestar Galactica’s command deck. Instead, the big ships feel emptier than they need to be, and we’re missing out on golden opportunities to instruct new players.

Let us fix this

I propose the creation of officer level crew. They will report to the capsuleer, keeping the player updated and informed. They will not have any effect on ship stats and they will not automate any functions. For an example, let me introduce Lt. S. Red, a slightly excitable tactical officer. When given an officer’s position on a ship he will make the following statements. “Thank you, sir. I won’t let you down.”— (On being equipped to a ship.) “Captain, there are enemies on grid!”— (Outside of highsec space when a neutral or red ship comes out of warp or decloaks or in highsec in regards to war targets. He will not repeat this for two minutes; he will not repeat this as long as the original enemy remains on grid; he will not repeat this if an additional enemy comes on grid or if the original enemy leaves grid while other enemies are still on grid.) “They are out of range, Captain.”— (When the player activates a weapon system that does not have enough range to hit the selected target. He will not repeat this for one minute.) “S-Sir! The enemy fleet is locking us!”— (When 10 or more non-friendly ships lock the ship. He will not repeat this for two minutes.) “I don’t want to die!!”— (When the ship enters structure. He will not repeat this for five minutes.) Each officer will have an area of expertise. A miner might tell you when the ore hold is full. An engineer might inform you when the capacitor booster has finished reloading. A tourist will “ooh” and “ah” at the celestial wonders he sees before screaming in terror as the ship goes into combat. In the meantime, your mechanic will be clamoring for you to turn on your armor hardeners.

Why do we need this?

This is about the user interface. All the information (except the terrified screaming) presented here is vital to keeping track when you play the game. You need to know what enemies are on grid, and make sure you turn on your hardeners. You have to do a million tiny things and keep track of all manner of information to play EVE right. As a veteran, you know all this. But a new player might get confused. A panel of advisors giving simple updates and advice will make a newbie’s life so much better. In short, the plan is to hold a new player’s hand. At the same time this provides great flavor for a veteran. We can ask, “What advantage does a newbie assisted by Lt. Red have over a newbie that is on his own?” For starters, the Lieutenant’s urgent tone at the beginning of a possible PvP encounter will signal to the newbie that something important, even exciting, is happening. He then tells the newbie if he is not using the weapon system correctly. The player without Lt. Red may not understand the importance of any PvP encounter, may not see the enemy on grid, and might be in the dark when it comes to using his weapons. Next, if a newbie gets into a fleet action, Lt. Red helps him understand that he is about to be the primary target. Even his fear is informative to the player. For one, he clearly indicates to the player when the ship is dangerously close to dying. It can also help the player cope with losing a ship. Instead of being frustrated, the newbie can say to himself, “At least I died with more dignity than Lt. Red.” The new player will subconsciously understand that PvP losses are a core part of the game. After all, CCP went to the effort of programming NPC’s to react to their imminent death. I cannot stress the importance of this last part enough. Dying in PvP is a huge turn off to new players. Putting losses into context, even making them slightly humorous, will help players adjust to this part of EVE. Ship Crews in New Eden 1

How would we implement this cheaply?

We do not need star level voice actors for this project. Having CCP employees record a few statements for each character would probably be the cheapest implementation. Player volunteers would work, but there are some sticky legal issues. Portraits can be generated the same way player portraits are made. Furthermore, all calculations could be done client-side, and server load is not increased. This is not something that can be cheated for any real advantage. The only barrier then is the level of programing difficulty. I would suggest though, that a new player would enjoy this far more than tweaks to how he could be warped around in a fleet. This is also a good reason to refrain from making crews apply stat changes to a ship, as it adds to the programming complexity. It will make balancing harder and more time consuming. It is not necessary, because we currently have many ways of modify our ships.

What about technical AI limitations?

Implementing this correctly will require careful consideration of what trigger conditions should exist for a given statement. Fortunately, there is a lot of forgiveness in the implementation. If a crew member gets annoying or makes inappropriate statements because of an edge case, a player can turn them off just like they would disable a module. They could unequip the NPC. The system does not have to be perfect because players can mix and match NPCs until they get a crew that works. One example might be having two different kinds of engineers. The first engineer tells the player when they have one minute of capacitor left. The other engineer shouts when the cap booster is ready to be activated again. The second would be more appropriate for a cap boosted ship, and the first would be more helpful when the ship does not have a cap booster equipped. Because both of them are optional, we do not have to implement a logic system that first looks at whether a capacitor booster is equipped or not. The player can simply decide what is appropriate. If somebody asks, “Why are there hundreds of copies of Lt. Red running around?”, the answer is simple. They are all clones of some poor sod (fated to die over and over). A deaf player can enjoy the benefits by having officers type their messages to him in the local chat box, the same way that some other NPCs communicate with players.

Miscellaneous details

Since we want this to be newbie friendly, T1 frigates should have enough slots to fill a useful roster. However, it would be very thematic to create more slots on bigger ships, particularly those with bonuses for running command modules. Slots would be ranked from highest rank to lowest rank so that an officer given a higher rank will speak over those of lower rank. We can also have variance in the quality of crew. There could be a choice between cheaper greener candidates and more expensive seasoned veterans. (The difference may be purely cosmetic, with Veterans being more confident and less panicky.) Getting newbies the right mix of officers for their profession would be a community matter—“Reddit says that for a Caldari missile frigate I, should put John the tactical officer, Kate who does shields, and Henry the engineer.” Still, the basic officers should be so cheap that a newbie without advice would be comfortable trying them all out until they get the information they need. Next time you elect to put a space tourist in your cargo hold and fly into certain death, think about the possibilities. And as always, good luck out there.
Tags: crew, implementation, NPE

About the author

Mukk Barovian

Mukk is a long time skirmish FC with a penchant for overpropping his ships.