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CCP hopes to capture what makes Eve Online special with new mobile game

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CCP Games unveiled Project Aurora today. It’s a new massively multiplayer online game on mobile that will roll out to a few countries later this year, with a full launch planned for 2018 for iOS and Android.

To develop Project Aurora, CCP teamed up with PlayRaven, which developed mobile strategy titles such as Winterstate and Spymaster. CCP, of course, is well known for the Eve Online which was a MMORPG trailblazer when it launched 14 years ago in 2003. Though Project Aurora takes cues from Eve Online, the two will not be set in the same universe.

“Project Aurora is based on a concept that CCP has been considering for quite some time now, which is essentially a condensed EVE Online experience on a mobile device that players can take with them wherever they go, but have meaningful adventures in regardless of how much time they put in at any one point,” said CCP producer Sam Barton in a phone call with GamesBeat.

CCP has some mobile experience with releases like Eve Portal, the companion app for Eve Online, and Gunjack for the Samsung Gear VR. However, Barton says the studio decided to partner with PlayRaven because of its expertise with phones and tablets.

PlayRaven CEO and cofounder Lasse Seppänen said that his team had pitched a game idea to CCP. That conversation morphed into the partnership on Project Aurora.

“CCP brought to bear all the experience they have from EVE Online and that community and all the successes they’ve had in that game,” said Seppänen. “On the other hand, we brought our expertise from mobile and free to play to the table. The initial pitch was a starting point for the discussion, but what emerged, I feel, was very much something both of us felt ownership for.”

The main goal of Project Aurora is to provide an open world framework for players to engage in the ways that interest them. It’s set in a science-fiction universe where players can form corporations and duke it out over resources, which grow scarce in certain star sectors. There isn’t so much of a story, but it does have hints to lore — for instance, Barton says, players may have to search for mysterious relics to progress to a new part of the galaxy.

“The intention is then to slowly hint and suggest a few things here and there, and let players build up the background story of why they’re there slowly over time, rather than layering it all on through a text medium,” said Barton.

Seppänen says that another reason they opted out of a deep narrative because of the fact that it’s a mobile game.

“Also, the medium of mobile games, it’s not very well-suited to elaborate storytelling,” said Seppänen. “That’s why I think we’re seeing a lot of games, the vast majority of games, without the kind of storytelling you’d be accustomed to from a desktop or a console game. It’s a deliberate decision on the design side to maybe enable the players to narrate those stories, rather than us trying to tell a story through a very limited medium.”

Like Eve Online, Project Aurora will be massively multiplayer. There will be limits, though, to how many players can appear in one area of the map. This is more for player experience than because of any technical limitations.

“Really, our decisions around how many players can be on a certain world is based on the point where we feel that social cohesion starts to break down and players feel too anonymous,” said Barton. “They feel they can’t influence the world around them enough. That’s something we’re very much experimenting with still.”

Seppänen says another reason why is because of how ungainly the user interface would be if they showed hundreds of thousands of players in one area.

The social aspect is a big priority for CCP and PlayRaven, and they’re counting on emergent gameplay to appeal to Project Aurora’s players. For instance, there is no endgame right now; rather, Barton says that it’s all about the goals that players set for themselves, the goals they want to accomplish with their friends, and the vendettas they carry against other players who have slighted them. There aren’t NPCs in the world, just people vying for resources and looking to get to the top.

These sorts of emotional triggers were a huge part of how CCP and PlayRaven designed Project Aurora and decided which features from Eve Online would translate well into a mobile game.

“This game is more about understanding what they players’ emotions are behind certain features within EVE Online,” said Barton. “And then trying to re-create something in Project Aurora that re-creates that emotion, but is far more accessible and allows people to check in and check out of the game regularly, rather than have to put long sessions into that gameplay.”

Focusing on the social aspect of it rather than complicated missions and quests can also help Project Aurora appear friendlier to casual players.

“If you want to bring on board a friend from the real world who is maybe not as core a player as you are, they still might find a role that’s comfortable for them to do in the game, while some of the more core players will then, for instance, possibly handle more intense parts of the game,” said Seppänen.

CCP and PlayRaven want Project Aurora to appeal to a wide audience of players, and not just fans of Eve Online who are looking for a mobile equivalent. One way they’re hoping to do that is with live operations later on. This in-game events will occur not just on a weekly basis, but also as occasional flash events that are only available for a limited time.

“At that point we want it to become a social hook into the game, where people message their friends and say, hey, quick, if we go here now, we can take this and get an advantage over another corporation,” said Barton.

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