Team Phenomenon took to the stage to give players the low-down on the upcoming new PvE content; Blood Raider Shipyards.
Headed up by CCP Larrikin, this presentation was in part a spiritual successor to the ">Behaving Like A Boss With AI" presentation from Fanfest 2015. CCP Frellicus, CCP Burger, CCP Yomama, and CCP Paradox were all present to share how Blood Raider shipyards will work, and what kind of sneaky AI tactics players might be able to expect.
CCP Larrikin kicked things off with the team’s mission statement: ‘Make Space Great Again’. He explains that as a tools team, their goal is to create tools that generate dynamic PvE content- such as the NPC mining fleets brought in with Ascension. This was the first example of what Larrikin names as ‘advanced fleet tactics’, where NPC ships were emulating player fits and actions.
Following on from an example of how players choose modules to change the attributes of their ships, CCP Larrikin reveals that Team Phenomenon actually use Pyfa to draft the fits and attributes for the NPC ships! Exporting the attributes from the fitted ships gives the team the numbers they need to give to the NPC ships to simulate a fully fitted player ship.
CCP Frellicus took the lead on explaining the NPC behaviour trees, and how the NPCs make their decisions. He explained that NPCs still use the ‘blackboard’ system to share information with each other and synchronise their behaviour, allowing them to react to the environment in a coordinated way. The hierarchy of these behaviour trees allows for NPCs to take on different roles in different circumstances - CCP Frellicus gives the example from the NPC mining operations, with mining ships having linked behaviour to call in a hauler, while both are still able to call for help if attacked.
He moves on to the more combat-oriented roles of the new Blood Raider PvE content, showing how the ‘Commander’ role NPC behaviours vary from that of DPS, Tacklers, EWAR, anti-logistics, logistics; but all coordinate as a player fleet would.
CCP Larrikin picks up on the subject of NPC fleet formations - and, surprise surprise, the NPC fleet formations are based on typical player fleet formations. The Blood Raider shipyard content is due to have playtests on Singularity in the very near future, but Larrikin spells out the core information; there will only ever be one Blood Raider Sotiyo spawned at any one time, and it will (naturally) spawn in Blood Raider space. The only differences between the Blood Raider Sotiyo and a player-placed Sotiyo are that the Blood Raider Sotiyo is always vulnerable, and has no armour reinforcement cycle (instead, going straight from shields to hull). As was stated in the keynote, the Shipyard will not be direction scannable or probe-able; but will become visible on the overview to anyone in the system as soon as its shields are taken down.
And the Blood Raiders won’t care if you have positive standings with them- if you come to their Shipyard, they’ll attack you! With the chance of Blood Raider capital ship blueprints available, they will be defending their base with everything they have.
CCP Yomama moved on to talk about how the team fitted the Sotiyo itself - which is fitted much like a player Sotiyo, with a few dev tweaks. The AI for the Sotiyo will use modules and behaviours much like a player controlling a Citadel/Engineering Complex- except this is the first example of an NPC that will lock multiple targets. The Sotiyo itself, he explains, will respond to the requests of each of its individual modules - if a module loses their target, it will figure out and allocate them a new one to harass and attack based on the demands and preferences of that particular module.
The clicker is handed to CCP Paradox to cover how the fleets themselves will be more dynamic and procedural, rather than the ‘standard’ PvE content of enemies arriving in predictable waves. He explains how the Alliance Tournament system of points allocation to the different types of ships was a foundation for how the NPC fleets are managed; the Shipyard fleets have a more complex version of this system that includes considerations for what fleet role a ship has, whether it is long- or short-range, etc. This allows the Shipyard to evaluate the battlefield and send out a response fleet of approximately equal value and appropriate roles, tailored to combat the player fleet composition. Each engagement will be unique and different!
CCP Frellicus returns to discuss fleet awareness; NPCs know where their fleetmates (and the enemies) are on grid thanks to proximity sensors. The ships within the NPCs’ proximity area are evaluated by threat potential and then attacked in the appropriate order. Frellicus states how much potential server load this new content could bring, with huge fleets on both sides- CCP Larrikin backs this up by saying that the team will be monitoring and making tweaks to behaviours based on how the AI responds to whatever players throw at it.
CCP Burger rounds off the presentation with a look to the future- expanding these behaviours to other NPC factions is possible, as well as sharing the tools with other development teams to implement in other features and areas of the game.
More questions and details would be found at the PvE Roundtable, and information will continue to be released via dev blogs as the feature gets ready to go live.
You can see the full presentation below: