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Eve Online game designer recalls game's hot mess of a policing system

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Massively-multiplayer online game Eve Online is known for having a fairly robust policing system, but this wasn't always the case, according to senior game designer Matt Woodward.

Speaking at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco today, Woodward said until the studio rebooted its Crimewatch system, versions 1.X (all iterations between 1.0 and 2.0) were highly problematic, overly complex and oftentimes broken.

The world of Eve Online is divided into three dominant regions: high security space, which is regarded as a safe place where the game's non-playable characters enforce strict rules, no security space, which is a region without rules and law enforcement, and low security space, which is somewhere between the two. According to Woodward, in the early days of the game's Crimewatch system, players exploited loop holes, the developers over-complicated the rules, and this resulted in a messy policing system.

"We added more and more to this monolithic system, and things started to break..."

In one example, Woodward talked about Concord, which is a kind of police force within the game that turns up to shoot (and kill) players who have committed illegal activities in high security space and sometimes low security space. Eve Online players were able to circumvent this by teaming up to heal each other, so when Concord showed up to shoot at one ship, several other ships stacked their collectively healing abilities to heal teach other faster than Concord could kill them. This led to a group of players camping outside a star-gate and shooting at other players without actually having to suffer the punishment Concord dealt.

In another example, Woodward highlighted the complexity of the Crimewatch system by explaining the game's aggression graphs. The game has areas where players are not meant to attack each other at all but, under the old system, there were exceptions. A player could attack in the name of self-defense. If the attacker was being healed by a third person, the healer was now also fair game. This led to occasions where a one-on-one conflict ballooned into a battle involving entire squads of players who were all attacking and healing each other, creating chaos.

In addition, the old Crimewatch system was such a tangled web of exceptions and special cases that when the development team tried to fix one aspect of it, other parts would often break.

"We added more and more to this monolithic system, and things started to break," Woodward said. "Complexity breeds complexity. We had a system that was very simple at the beginning, but we added complexity to it too fast. It was very ad-hoc, there were lots of special case codes, lots of Band-Aid fixes. You don't fix a complex system by adding complexity, because you end up creating more problems."

When it came time to develop Crimewatch 2.0, stuck to core design principles like having a good user interface, maintaining the balance as much as possible, and keeping the system simple and understandable. It untangled the huge web of code of rules and exceptions and created a fair system that still stands today.

Polygon's in-depth feature on Eve Online and its players can be read here.