Brendan Drain

    - Columnist

    A long-time MMO-addict, northern-irish lad Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is a publicly respected member of the EVE Online community, with over six years of playtime under his belt. Brendan is Massively's resident EVE Online expert and writer of the biweekly EVE Evolved column, published Sunday evenings. The column covers everything from guides and opinion pieces to commentary on game design and hints on preparing for upcoming expansions. In addition to the column, Brendan covers EVE Online news, community events, general interest stories, and other posts. When he finds the time in his hectic schedule, he can sometimes be found writing features on game design topics or other MMOs he's playing.

  • EVE Evolved: The end of EVE Evolved

    By now, you will have heard that Massively is being shut down along with Joystiq and countless other blogs run by AOL. That unfortunately means this will be my final article for Massively and marks an end to the nearly seven-year run of the EVE Evolved column, which now holds over 350 articles on topics ranging from ship fittings and opinion pieces to guides and expansion breakdowns. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your readership and to express just how much playing EVE Online and writing for you really have impacted my life. I've been asked by so many people over the years for tips on breaking into the games industry as a journalist or MMO blogger, but the truth is that I lucked into this gig. When a post on the EVE Online news page said that some site called Massively was hiring an EVE Online columnist, I almost didn't bother applying. I was a prolific forumgoer back then and had written some guides for EON Magazine and my own blog, but I wanted to get into game development and had very little confidence in my writing ability. What I didn't know then was that writing for Massively would help improve my writing skills immeasurably and even help give me the confidence to launch my own game development studio. Massively gave me a platform on which to talk about EVE Online and an eager audience to share my game experiences with, but it turned into something much more profound. There have been low points dealing with trolls and organised harassment and tough times with budget cuts, but there have also some incredible experiences like attending the EVE Online Fanfest, investigating monoclegate, watching CCP redeem itself in the eyes of players, and collaborating with some of the best writers in the games industry. In this final edition of EVE Evolved, I look back at the start of the EVE Evolved column, break down my top ten column articles of all time, and try to put into words how much this column has meant to me over the years.

  • EVE Evolved: Rebuilding EVE's corporation tools

    The MMO genre is defined by the online interactions of thousands of players, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the single-shard sandbox of EVE Online. While it's possible to play EVE solo, it's the players who make most of the game's meaningful content, and it's only in your emergent interactions with other players that I think the game truly comes to life. Some time ago, I wrote about the importance of CCP supporting EVE's power players, the corporation owners, fleet commanders, and event organisers who give the rest of us something fun to do. Now it looks like CCP is starting to deliver that support, with developers currently looking at updating EVE's archaic corp management tools. CCP Punkturis recently asked corporation owners for a list of the most annoying "little things" they'd like to see fixed with the corporation management interface and was instead flooded with requests for big features and complete overhauls. Developers later confirmed on The o7 Show that at least one highly requested big feature is definitely on its way: CEOs will soon be able to switch off friendly-fire between corp members. The threat of corporate infiltrators attacking corp members has been a massive barrier preventing corps from recruiting new players, so its removal is good news for everyone (except spies). So now that corporation management is finally back on the drawing board, what other features do corp owners need? In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at a few ideas for corporation tools and features that would make EVE a better place for everyone.

  • EVE Evolved: Fitting the Confessor for PvE and PvP

    December was a great month for EVE Online players, with the Rhea update opening new wormhole systems for the first time since 2009, updating the star map and all ships with amazing new visuals, and advancing the Sleeper storyline with mysterious cloaked structures appearing all over EVE and Sleeper NPCs making incursions into normal space. The update also brought us a ship-carrying freighter called the Bowhead and the first of a new line of tech 3 tactical destroyers called the Confessor. While every race will eventually get its own tech 3 destroyer, the Amarr Confessor was the first to be released due to the Amarr winning a research race player event. Tactical Destroyers are a completely new class of ship in EVE with the ability to transform between three different combat modes in the middle of a fight to adapt to changing circumstances. Defense Mode boosts armour resistances and reduces the ship's signature radius, Propulsion Mode increases the ship's speed and agility, and Sharpshooter Mode increases turret optimal range and boosts the ship's sensors. With Confessor prices having now dropped below the 100 million ISK mark and more pilots finishing the skill training required, people have started figuring out some interesting ship setups for it. In this edition of EVE Evolved, I check out a few of the Confessor setups players have devised so far and look at what makes this transforming terror tick.

  • Elite: Dangerous server goes haywire, creates instant billionaires [Updated]

    The Elite: Dangerous server has had a relatively smooth launch since it released just over two weeks ago, but all that changed last night when the server went absolutely haywire. A suspected transaction server failure caused a whole slew of bizarre bugs for those playing the game last night, from benign errors like players getting disconnected to catastrophic failures like deleting a ship's entire cargo, rolling back ship upgrades, and deleting credits. The worst problems involved players having ghost cargo that could be sold over and over again, allowing them to rack up millions of credits in minutes. Though the problems were reported promptly, the server wasn't rebooted until its usual maintenance period over six hours later. In a feat of remarkably bad timing, the server problems happened on a national holiday in the UK, and so the developers at Frontier were taking time off to celebrate the new year. There has been no official announcement on the problems yet, and players are speculating on the damage that would be caused or reversed if Frontier performed a server rollback. Reports from the Elite forum suggest that developers may not be back to work until as late as January 5th, at which point it's unlikely that developers will roll the server back. The damage from last night's errors continues to cause problems today. One player was left shipless and unable to log in when the server reversed a ship purchase transaction, and another's ship teleported back across the galaxy and is being held hostage at a station with no shipyard. Dozens of players have reported broken cargo holds or missing cargo and credits, and one player logged in this morning to find 5 billion credits sitting in his wallet. These events have naturally prompted a resurgence of complaints about Elite's always-online gameplay, as players have found themselves unable to play without problem even in solo mode. We have reached out to Frontier for comment.

  • EVE Evolved: EVE Online vs. Elite: Dangerous

    Like many EVE Online players, I grew up playing early sci-fi games like Elite and its sequel Frontier. In fact, CCP's recently released stats on the distribution of ages within the EVE community shows a peak around 29 years old, meaning that most players grew up in that same gaming era. A big part of what initially drew me to EVE Online was the prospect of playing the same kind of massive trading and space exploration game with other people, and for over 10 years it's scratched that sci-fi sandbox itch. I've watched EVE grow from a relatively unknown game with around 40,000 subscribers and laggy cruiser skirmishes into a vast game where thousands of players wage war for territory, profit, or just the adrenaline rush of PvP with something valuable on the line. Now that Elite: Dangerous is finally here, I want to see whether it can scratch the same sandbox itch as EVE and to what extent the two games can be compared. Both feature customisable ship fittings, open-world PvP with a criminal justice system, and real financial loss on death, for example, but the end result is two very different gameplay styles. And both also have that same intoxicating notion of exploring the unknown and try to make you feel like you're in a living world, but they take very different approaches to world design, content, and travel. Elite may not be a full-fledged MMO, but with a sandbox made of 400 billion procedurally generated stars and an open play mode that seamlessly merges players' games together, does it matter? In this edition of EVE Evolved, I compare my experiences in Elite: Dangerous to my experiences in EVE Online and look at their differing strategies with regard to server model, active and passive gameplay, and the new player experience.

  • EVE Evolved: The Sleepers are coming!

    Ever since the announcement of 100 new wormhole systems and the unique Thera wormhole hub system, some interesting things have been going on in EVE Online. A new star appeared in the night sky and began rapidly growing in brightness like a supernova, and curiously, the light from that star was able to be seen from every star system in New Eden simultaneously in clear violation of the laws of physics. Two days prior to the event, Sansha's Nation were seen scattering from an Incursion site and leaving the area without using wormholes, hinting that something big was happening in their home system. Combined with the intruiging story of Thera, this has had even non-roleplayers scrambling through the EVE lore to come up with theories about what's to come. Players slowly set apart picking the mystery to pieces, conducting a galaxy-wide search to find the origin of the bright star and sending people into the test server to get clues. The mystery intensified when players discovered that the star was likely near or within restricted Jove space, and soon after they began finding strange cloaked structures throughout known space. While observing these structures, players even found that an all-new form of Sleeper NPC called the Circadian Seeker was periodically warping into the site and using some kind of scanning beam on the cloaked structure. All of this comes in anticipation of the public release of the Rhea patch on Tuesday 9th, which will introduce hidden Sleeper sites in known space and kick off the arms race to discover tech 3 destroyers. In this lore-heavy edition of EVE Evolved, I look at everything we know of EVE's new Sleeper storyline event and try to figure out how it all fits together.

  • EVE Evolved: What does Thera mean for EVE?

    If you've been keeping up with the recent news updates on EVE Online, you've probably heard about the upcoming Rhea update scheduled for December 9th. This mega patch will introduce the new tech 3 Tactical Destroyer ship class, Sleeper incursions into normal space, hands-on WASD flight controls, and 101 new wormhole systems (including 25 that are limited to small ships). The new wormhole systems have had all of their planets shattered by an as-yet unknown stellar phenomenon, and clues as to what transpired there will be hidden in the rubble. This infusion of new content and story will mark the first time the wormhole storyline and gameplay have been significantly expanded in over four years. Each of the new shattered star systems is guaranteed to have at least one outgoing wormhole leading to normal space at all times, increasing the likelihood that pirates will catch you exploring or farming them. And since these systems won't have any in-tact moons, you won't be able to put up a permanent starbase to retreat to if hostiles appear. I'm pretty excited for exploring this new lawless frontier, but it's a unique shattered star system called Thera that I'm most looking forward to finding. Thera will be the first and only wormhole system to have fully kitted NPC stations and will serve as neutral ground for anyone who wants to live there. It's been described as the Mos Eisley of EVE, a permanent home to pirates, PvP corps, and smugglers looking to make some quick ISK. In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at how the Thera system could revolutionise EVE for a lot of players and where the EVE storyline could go as a result.

  • The Daily Grind: Should EVE Online add manual flight controls?

    On Friday, developer CCP Games stunned us with the news that EVE Online will be adding manual flight controls in December's Rhea update. Gamers have been asking for twitch controls since EVE launched in 2003, but the idea has always been shot down as infeasible because it would put the server under extremely heavy load. CCP mentioned its interest in twitch controls during Fanfest 2013, and I speculated on a possible server-friendly implementation in an EVE Evolved article shortly after, but the fact that the feature is about to be released still comes as a huge surprise. The new controls will be optional and quite limited. Ships will be able to rotate clockwise or counterclockwise and pitch their ships up vertically up and down, but we won't be able to do loops or rolls like in a dogfighting game. Developers also want to add joystick support soon, but so far there are no plans to add manually targeted ship weapons. Many players are excited for the new controls, and some of them are already asking for further features like the ability to lock the camera behind their ships for a more hands-on flight experience. The announcement has prompted debate in the EVE Online community, and not everyone is convinced it's a good idea. Some have complained that twitch controls don't suit EVE as the ships are supposed to be massive starships with full crews rather than single-pilot fighter craft. There's also some cynicism over whether the feature is only being worked on now due to the growing popularity of Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous. EVE could be positioning itself as a viable alternative for any players who are disappointed with the new space games, a strategy that has worked in the past to help it absorb players from games like Earth & Beyond and Star Wars Galaxies. What do you think? Should EVE add manual flight controls, and is this an attempt to appeal to the mass market? Every morning, the Massively bloggers probe the minds of their readers with deep, thought-provoking questions about that most serious of topics: massively online gaming. We crave your opinions, so grab your caffeinated beverage of choice and chime in on today's Daily Grind!

  • EVE Evolved: Could permadeath work in EVE?

    Permadeath has been one of the most contentuous features in online gaming since as far back as I can remember. The feeling of permanently losing a character you've spent months training up and playing with because of a single mistake or lag spike would be horrifying to most people, yet the idea continues to intrigue both players and developers. Diablo II's Hardcore mode is probably the most successful permadeath mechanic in an online game to date, separating the hardcore players onto a different server so that they develop their own game economy and leaderboard. Several MMOs have experimented with permadeath servers or mechanics over the years, but they're almost always reverted as failures. In a recent presentation at EVE Vegas 2014, EVE Online developer CCP Rise discussed the idea of permadeath characters as something he's wanted to add to the game for the past few years. This is particularly problematic for EVE as the game uses passive time-based skill training and the whole game takes place on one massive shard. The hardcore players would need to have enough incentive to risk their characters' lives on a daily basis, their abilities would have to be balanced with non-hardcore players, and abuse of the system to suicide gank players would need to be handled. But if those problems are tackled, is it possible that there's a place for permadeath in EVE? In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at how permadeath could be added to EVE Online without disrupting the rest of the game.

  • EVE Vegas 2014 roundup: Tech 3 destroyers, permadeath and more

    An event that started out several years ago as an impromptu EVE Online player gathering, EVE Vegas has grown so large that this year it was was officially taken over by developer CCP Games. This year's event was organised like a mini-Fanfest, with Executive Producer Andie Nordgren's keynote address and some interesting talks from both players and developers. Players got a chance to compare notes with developers on the game's recent progress, CCP let out a few exciting reveals, and the whole event was streamed live to viewers at home for free. This year's big reveal was a new tech 3 Tactical Destroyer ship class that can transform into one of several tactical configurations mid-fight to boost power to the engines, shields, or weapons as required. We also heard rumblings of new "glass cannon" weapons that deal increased damage but lower your ship's damage resistances, and CCP tested the public response to the controversial idea of adding permadeath characters to EVE. Player talks were equally informative, giving insights into the world of nullsec Fleet Command and the custom Region Commander software that the game's biggest coalitions use to maintain their grip on power. If you missed out on the event, read on for links to Massively's coverage of the stream or to watch the stream recordings for yourself.

  • EVE Vegas 2014: Getting players involved in EVE's development

    Back in 2011, EVE Online developer CCP Games was rocked by controversy when players outraged over the Incarna expansion's microtransactions and CCP's indifference to player feedback spoke with their wallets and quit the game. In what became known as the monoclegate scandal, an estimated 8% of players quit, and CCP eventually laid off 20% of its staff worldwide. Some tough lessons were learned about keeping players looped into the development process, and CCP began involving players more closely in the development process. At EVE Vegas 2014 today, developer CCP Fozzie looked at the ways that CCP gathers ideas and feedback from the community. As a sandbox MMO with a very dedicated community, EVE is in the interesting position that many of the players know more about the game than the developers themselves and can identify problems with ideas very early in the development process. Plans are now announced earlier in development to gather feedback, some new features are now made optional on release to gauge usage, and failed ideas will even be rolled back if necessary. During the talk, Fozzie confirmed that each SCRUM team within CCP focuses on one particular area of gameplay and that player ideas are often brought into internal meetings for discussion. A new rig named the Higgs Anchor is even being introduced based on player suggestions; it will decrease movement speed by 75% but increase agility to make it easier to align to warp out if hostiles approach the player's location. If this level of player participation keeps up, hopefully disasters like monoclegate will never happen again.

  • EVE Vegas 2014: CCP on the new player experience and permadeath

    Every time some huge scandal or record-breaking battle erupts in EVE Online, thousands of new players flood into the game ready to create epic stories of their own. Confronted with a confusing interface and a practically mandatory tutorial that takes most of the day to complete, most of those players, unsurprisingly, don't stick around. The past few updates have improved things by adding tooltips to the main UI elements and introducing a new notification system, but there's more to come. At EVE Vegas 2014 this weekend, CCP Rise discussed his plans for a new Opportunities system that will replace the tutorial. To help design the system, developers got together groups of gamers who had never played before and dropped them into EVE with little to no instructions. The playtests highlighted a lack of action compared to expectations and showed how confusing things like the map, station UI, and hangar inventory system can be for newcomers. Many of these problems are very easily fixed and may even be solved in one of the two remaining patches this year. In an interesting move, Rise went on to talk about his idea to add a form of permadeath to EVE Online. Although you lose your ship when you die in EVE, it's actually only a financial loss as your character is reborn in a fresh clone. What Rise wants is for people to make new mortal characters with no clones and a fixed number of skillpoints to allocate to skills. It's possible that this could close the gap between old and new players by allowing newbies to purchase single lives with the focused combat skills of a veteran. This isn't something that will be introduced any time soon or even that's definitely coming, but the fact that CCP is talking about the idea publicly now is intriguing.

  • EVE Vegas 2014: Region Commander turns EVE into a huge spreadsheet

    It's often said that sci-fi MMO EVE Online isn't so much a game as a giant online spreadsheet and that people pay a subscription fee in order to have a second job they don't get paid for. While that's little more than a joke to the majority of EVE players, there are those for whom EVE is genuinely played on a massive spreadsheet. In a guest talk at EVE Vegas 2014 earlier today, players Javajunky and Gossamer DT from the logistics division of one of the game's largest coalitions discussed the monumental amount of work that goes into the industrial and organisation side of running a nullsec alliance or coalition. During the talk, Gossamer DT discussed an interesting piece of custom software he develops called Region Commander that was designed specifically for organising player empires. The tool keeps track of starbase tower fuel, maintains a blacklist of players who have been kicked out of the coalition, and allows organisers to create and assign tasks to players in their command. Players who want to contribute to their alliance's industrial backbone can log into the system to take on work tasks due for completion, and the tool updates in realtime. The only thing missing is a punch card and a paycheck. Using this tool, players have managed to combat the logistical and organisational challenges that would naturally make coalitions of thousands of players infeasible. Many third party tools have been criticised in the past for providing gameplay advantages to those who use them and increasing the gulf between new and experienced players. Players already have tools to help with mining and trading, and even ones that parse data from your ship scanner into useful information for your Fleet Commander. It's clear that whether CCP or the playerbase approves of these tools, this djinn won't be going back into its bottle.

  • EVE Vegas 2014: December's Rhea update adds tech 3 destroyers

    During the Keynote speech at EVE Vegas 2014, EVE Online developers revealed some big news for the game's next two major updates. We heard the broad strokes of CCP's plans at the latest EVE Fanfest back in March, when it was revealed that the company would switch from releasing two expansions per year to around ten smaller releases. The upcoming Phoebe release planned for November 4th will improve Tech 2 Invention, improve life in the lawless nullsec regions with heavy nerfs to capital ship movement, and introduce a highly requested unlimited length skill queue system. While players are certainly looking forward to Phoebe, it's December's Rhea update that will really pack a punch. The Blackbird, Falcon, and Rook electronic warfare ships will get new models, and a new type of freighter codenamed the "Tug" will be introduced that can move large numbers of fitted ships around the game. But the big news coming out of EVE Vegas 2014 today is that a completely new set of tech 3 ships will be added for the first time since 2009's Apocrypha expansion. The new ships are tactical destroyer, and they aren't just smaller versions of the tech 3 strategic cruisers. Instead of being built out of a set of subsystems, tactical destroyers will have the ability to switch between several modes on the fly, transforming them from snipers or tanks to speed demons as required. If you've ever wanted to transfer full power to your engines or shields like something out of Star Trek, these new ships are for you. Thanks to winning a recent research race event, the Amarr version of the ship will be released before the other races.

  • EVE Vegas 2014: Tune in with our free livestream

    While the main event of the EVE Online calendar is undoubtedly the annual Fanfest in Reykjavik, Iceland, new events have popped up around the world over the years. Player-run meetups are frequently organised in London, and EVE Down Under is starting to gain major traction with the Australian playerbase, but the most well-established by far is EVE Vegas. The two day event runs each year in Las Vegas in the USA and is attended by hundreds of fans and is kind of like a mini Fanfest, with presentations on the future of EVE and roundtable discussions with developers. Today's schedule includes a keynote speech from CCP Seagull on the future of EVE Online, a screening of Rooks & Kings celebrated video Clarion Call 4, and talks from three nullsec alliance players on the topics of Fleet Commanding and Alliance Logistics. There will also be talks from CCP Rise and CCP FoxFour on changes to the new player experience, altered restrictions on trial accounts, and the plan for third party developers. All 500 tickets for the event were sold out in record time this year, but those at home can tune in for free right now on CCP's Twitch livestream. I'll also be tuning into the stream throughout the weekend to bring you the highlights on important reveals and information. Whether you're a die-hard fan of internet spaceships or just a gawker on the sidelines, EVE Vegas is the EVE Online and EVE Valkyrie event of the season. Follow Massively's Brendan Drain as he reports on the Vegas event's starpower, scheming, and spoilers, and watch CCP's streams of the best panels live here on Massively!

  • EVE Evolved: Fixing EVE's player activity

    It's been a sort of running gag in EVE Online throughout the years that players spend inordinate amounts of time docked in stations and spinning their ships around in the hangar, but this is oddly close to the truth. Those of us who have been hooked to EVE for years know just how intense the game can get at its most frantic and how incredible it is to be present for historic events and important PvP battles, but those moments are rare, and there's typically a lot of downtime between periods of activity. For every PvP battle fought, incursion fleet formed or wormhole op organised, players often have to spend hours in stations or in space amusing themselves or doing busywork. With gamers now spreading their increasingly limited free time across a growing catalogue of online games, some EVE players log in for only a few minutes per day to queue skills, chat with corpmates, and see if anything interesting is happening. The recent announcement that the upcoming Phoebe release will contain infinite length skill queues has some players concerned that people will lose the motivation to pop their heads into New Eden each day and see what's going on. Since the best sandbox gameplay is emergent in nature, just getting players to log in so they're available to take part in something awesome when it happens is extremely important. In this edition of EVE Evolved, I ask whether EVE is in trouble due to its recent decline in player activity, look at the impact of people with just a few hours per week to play, and suggest a new app idea that could help solve all of those problems.

  • EVE Evolved: Has the industry revamp worked?

    When I was first introduced to EVE Online back in 2004, a big part of the attraction for me was the promise of a huge player-run economy in which the only real laws were those of supply and demand. With only a handful of tech 1 ships and modules available to build and everything made out of the same basic minerals, science and industry were pretty easy for new players to figure out. Over the years, more complexity has slowly been added to industry via features like Starbases, Salvaging, Capital Ships, Tech 2 Invention, Planetary Interaction and Tech 3 Reverse Engineering. Today's industrialists have to contend with hundreds of different items that are often arranged in sprawling component manufacturing chains, which can make it hard to figure out exactly how to make a profit. The recent industry revamp attempted to solve this problem with a full user interface overhaul and a revamp of material costs and manufacturing prices. All of the relevant information for using a blueprint was packed into a slick new combined Industry UI, allowing new players to find the info they're looking for in-game rather than through websites or opening dozens of item info windows. It's now been almost two months since the industry revamp went live, and while the market for many items is still going to take several months to fully stabilise, the dust has finally begun to settle. So what's the verdict? Has the industry revamp worked? In this edition of EVE Evolved, I consider whether the industry revamp has been successful, how easy it is to make a profit in the new system, and whether it's worth setting up your own industrial starbase.