Adrian Blunt CCP

CCP reloads its shooter ambitions – aims for London-developed title to be ‘genre defining’

It’s fair to say that there’s nothing new in CCP trying to make a successful shooter based in its immense, enduring and engaging Eve Online universe. First there was the PS3-era Dust 514 (which released to a mixed reception), then came Project Legion, and most recently Project Nova, which itself was cancelled in February last year.

The flame never died, though, and now the baton for a new Eve-sibling shooter has been passed to CCP’s London studio. And that team now has a new studio head in the form of industry veteran Adrian Blunt, most recently of Splash Damage, but who also spent time at EA, Ubisoft and Square Enix.

So we sat down with him to discuss the rebooted shooter. A project that, due to its now potted history, combined with the media’s long-running interest in Eve’s scale and success, is under the critical microscope to a far greater extent than many similar titles would be. So can it live up to expectations, before CCP has even said a word about it?

“We have a history of breaking down barriers with our ambition. I think that’s very much true in this game. It is a hugely ambitious game, it will be genre defining. And it has all the hallmarks of a CCP game,” says Blunt, happy to match those expectations.

The game was in pre-production before Blunt’s arrival, and his first impressions were good: “When I had the opportunity to meet the team, play the game, and I was blown away by what the team has been able to create.” So, at very least, we know that this early version of the game was strong enough to entice Blunt from his previous position at
Splash Damage.

“It is a hugely ambitious game, it will be genre defining. And it has all the hallmarks of a CCP game”

“I’ve been making games for the last 20 years. And throughout my career, CCP has pretty much been a constant fixture. I’ve admired it from the start, both in terms of how the game has grown, the way that it interacts with its community. I’ve always been fascinated by it.

“Combine that with what the team in London is making, that opportunity to run a studio of talented individuals and help shape that team and help shape that game. It just felt like a dream job. I think I finally have the best job in the world.”

PROJECT RELOADED

While Blunt is obviously delighted with his new role, it’s worth considering that his job is to make something that CCP has struggled with in recent years. Blunt obviously can’t speak to events before his time, so CCP’s head of public relations, George Kelion steps in.

George Kelion. CCP

Kelion tells us, in relation to Project Nova, that CCP always aims to “keep challenging ourselves every step of the way by asking difficult questions when facing tough decisions.” An admirable outlook.

“Over the course of Project Nova’s development, we conducted a number of player research sessions with external partners, tirelessly play-tested the game internally and brought community stalwarts in to help us evaluate the project,” he recounts. “After taking all this research and feedback into account, we saw that the gameplay experience of its hands-on demo did not live up to our original vision and would not achieve our ambitious goals for the project.”

At that point Project Nova came to an end, though the learnings were not scrapped. “We took our shooter game concept back into incubation where it could continue to evolve,” explains Kelion. “Doing so was the best way to ensure we create a memorable experience that satisfies our players and makes us proud as developers.”

The new, purposefully unnamed project, is more like a phoenix from the ashes, then. “Due to significant changes in its scope and direction, it also made sense to update how we refer to this project internally. Consequently, we are no longer using Project Nova as its codename. Furthermore, we are moving away from publicly announcing our internal project codenames and will wait until we’re ready for a full reveal.”

One definite change is the personnel. “Project Nova team members based in Iceland have been moved onto other projects at our Reykjavík studio… Development of this game concept has moved over to CCP’s London studio entirely, where it is their sole focus,” says Kelion.

Although the goals of the project remain unchanged at the top level. “We remain committed to offering a rock-solid, action-oriented gameplay experience with stellar visuals. We want to show you rather than tell you how we have evolved this concept and we’re looking forward to doing so when the time comes to reveal the game.”

INTERSTELLAR COUNCIL

Of course, Kelion and Blunt aren’t the only ones looking forward to the big reveal, there’s a huge and fanatical fan base out there, all set to pass judgement on the team’s work. And in fact some of them already are.

“CCP has always taken the approach of creating games in conjunction with the community. It’s one of the hallmarks, I think,” says Blunt, although we’d add that any game as time-consuming as Eve will create some very strong, conflicting opinions on its Reddit page.

Blunt rightly points out that CCP was a pioneer in community relations.

“Nowadays, it’s very normal to have player councils, members of the community deeply involved with and in communication with the development team. That’s largely inspired by what the team here at CCP has achieved over the last couple of decades. And so I think, yes, there’s always going to be an expectation from the community, but we are making the game with the community and having the community involved in that development cycle with us.”

“CCP has always taken the approach of creating games in conjunction with the community”

To that end, there is already a community council for the new title, Blunt informs us. “They’re helping us to gauge ideas and bounce things off as we go through the early stages of development.” And the broader player base has been refreshed by the pandemic, says Blunt.

“We’ve seen an influx of players in our games. New players have come in, returning players have come back. And that’s been great for the game, been great for online games in general… We always have to listen to players and especially to new players coming in, it gives us a new voice that we can listen to, I think it will take our games to new levels… The challenge now will be to take on all of that information and adapt the game.”

TEAM LONDON

Honestly we’d rather be in Blunt’s position of creating something new, with an intrigued audience on hand, than trying to steer a gaming oil tanker like Eve Online. And speaking of scale, we wonder how many people are currently onboard, and how big will it become?

“We’re about 40 people right now,” he tells us, but the final size “will really will be dependent on the scale of the game that we’re making. I’m confident and I have a remit to build the studio to support the game.”

Eve Online is a tech-heavy, back-end heavy title, will the new game have a similar bias? “It’s quite a balanced team. We’re making a shooter at the end of the day. And we’ve got worlds to build, we’ve got the core shooting gameplay that we have to build. So the team right now is quite balanced, and we’re looking to expand it in the same way. But that being said, there’s a lot of expertise from a back end perspective that, obviously, CCP is very well known for and there’s a lot that we can leverage.”

That said, Blunt is clear about where the team is based. “We’ve taken the approach that this game will be owned and built by the London studio. So it is going to be very much the London studio’s game.”

We’re having our chat on Zoom of course, but this is one meeting that otherwise we’d certainly be taking in person, as both CCP and MCV/DEVELOP have offices in Covent Garden. That’s not unusual for a small media company, more so for a big games developer.

“I think we’re very, very lucky to have the studio and location that we do,” Blunt tells us. “As you know, Covent Garden is an amazing place to just spend time, just that walk from the tube through Covent Garden is just inspiring, you’re in the cultural heart of the city.” To boot the company picked up a Great Place to Work award in October 2020. “It’s a fantastic place to work and make games, but also it’s extremely accessible, it allows the developers to live anywhere around London and still be able to get into the office in a reasonable amount of time. So having that central location is both inspiring and very beneficial to everybody.”

“It’s going to be interesting to see what that landscape in London is like, coming out of the pandemic. I think the days of having a large office to house huge numbers of developers is not necessarily the future.”

He’s right, although I’m distracted thinking about my favourite sandwich shop, I really hope it’s survived. And of course, the pandemic may well change much more than our lunch options.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what that landscape in London is like, coming out of the pandemic. I think the days of having a large office to house huge numbers of developers is not necessarily the model that we need to look for in the future. There’s opportunities for people to work from home. Also the way that co-development and outsourcing now works, distributed development is really a quite established practice within the industry. So it gives us flexibility there and allows us to leverage the fact that we can be so central.”

NEW NORMAL

For now though we’re all stuck at home, and Blunt has had to get up to speed with the company and the project through his monitor. A process that seems somewhat analogous to a new Eve player coming to that immense universe for the first time.

“It does slow things down. As a new person coming into an organisation, I don’t have the context of any conversation. So normally, those cues that you would get from being around people, you don’t have those now. So you have to spend more time talking about that. You have to arrange calls, all of that slows it down.

“But I think one thing that I felt has been phenomenal, and I think this is true as an industry, is how we have embraced this way of working. If you had asked me 18 months ago, ‘can you make games remotely, entire triple A dev teams working remotely to make a game?’ I’d have said it can’t be done.

“My focus has always been in terms of shaping and growing teams. I operate on the principle that a great team can make a great game”

“Turns out you absolutely can. And not only that, but the creativity that surrounds games and the development of games is in full force right now. And so I see that with our team in London, what they’ve managed to achieve through a concept phase. Everybody working remotely talking to each other through computer screens have managed to create the magic that you see in computer games. Entire games have been created in this time. And it’s phenomenal.

“Specifically, I found that what’s been hugely beneficial to teams that normally would be in an open plan working environment, they can suddenly have really focused quiet time and that has really proved most beneficial.”

All of this is of particular interest to Blunt, who tells us that team-building is his key strength when it comes to the often multi-faceted studio director role he now holds.

“I’ve spent a large part of my career in production and operation of games. My focus has always been in terms of shaping and growing teams. I operate on the principle that a great team can make a great game, it all goes back to why CCP is interesting.

“It turns out Hilmar [Pétursson, CEO] absolutely feels exactly the same way – form the team and the team will then be able to create great games. And that’s how I see my approach, as a studio director it’s my job to help that team, to remove any barriers, to enable and empower them to have the creative freedom to be able to make great games.”

About Seth Barton

Seth Barton is the editor of MCV – which covers every aspect of the industry: development, publishing, marketing and much more. Before that Seth toiled in games retail at Electronics Boutique, studied film at university, published console and PC games for the BBC, and spent many years working in tech journalism. Living in South East London, he divides his little free time between board games, video games, beer and family. You can find him tweeting @sethbarton1.

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