What should you care?

First off, its important to identify what the Incarna expansion intended to bring to the table, and why.  Incarna, if you look here at Eve’s Wiki: http://wiki.eveonline.com/en/wiki/Incarna or http://wiki.eveonline.com/en/wiki/Ambulation, but I think the original announcement back in 2006 is probably the best way to introduce this topic.

Here is the portion of this topic related to Game Play:

Game design stuff

So… This is probably the part people are most curious about. What exactly will we be able to do once we’re inside the stations?

First of, I want to stress that we intend to build the world and experience inside the stations incrementally. The first release will have limited functionality and is expected as a more of a socializing forum than a place for brutally strangling your rival corp members or tossing handgrenades into a crowd of newbies, although both would be rewarding experiences for many players ( not the ones being strangled or blown up, though ).

There are a lot of services within stations at the moment being offered via a UI that we are used to and enables us to perform complex actions quickly. There are no plans for disabling any of these UI elements or replacing them with “real world” experiences, such as having to walk to a repair shop to have your ship fixed or spend hours tracking down agents in dark corridors. We might have you doing similar tasks, for added immersion, but we’ll never ruin the existing experience for people who want to be quick about their business in station so that they can hurry out and get back to podding miners.

Socializing in society, however, is very often done around some kind of action, game or activity, that in themselves are perhaps dull or monotonic, but serve as some sort of excuse for people to gather and chat. Bars, for example, are social places for the most part. They often have pool tables and darts and… beer. All tools to break the ice and play around with casually while you mingle with people. We realize that it’s not enough to just build a 1000 square meter circle inside a station, put everybody there and wait for the party to start. There will be stuff to do inside the station, some of it practical, some of it mundane, and lots of it will tie into the roleplaying backstory of the game.

It is often said that EVE forces everybody to roleplay. Not so much with the words that they speak, but with the actions they take. Just to make money or get from point A to B, the game mechanics are based on a solid back story and setting so you find yourself performing actions that in themselves are roleplaying yet serve a pragmatic purpose for attaining your goals. This is a design pattern that we will continue to use inside the stations. The last thing we want is for the stations to become a venue for dancing the Macarena or other actions that are totally out of character for the game and the people in it. I think Reynir, our founder / creative director once said in an interview that there will be no dancing in EVE:

“Macarena-dancing aliens have nothing to do with science fiction in my book. I recommend watching Aliens, Blade Runner and The Empire Strikes Back. This is what true science fiction is about and the reason we made EVE.”

The pod-pilots / capsuleers are the elite of EVE society. The chosen few who decide their own fate and often that of others, with the buying power of small countries and the military might of nations. As described in our stories, they are the rock-stars or the EVE universe. Normal people look upon them with awe, and those in power regard them with often envy, discontent and fear, as the pod-pilot, powerful as he is, answers to no-one than himself and his corporation. This is fact we want to capture and portray realistically within the stations. That’s for instance why pod-pilots mingle with each other and perhaps a select few of the NPCs in stations. They stay in VIP lounges and corporate offices, and far below in the small streets and corridors, you glimpse the thousands of normal people making their way around the station.

Then there is the question of combat. Personally, like I stated at the fanfest, I have a strong urge to perform violent acts upon other people when I’m with them in an online environment. It may have to do with bad upbringing, incorrect role models or just genes. But many people share this affliction with me. What will we do to meet their needs?

Combat is a pandora’s box of problems. If we introduce combat we need some sort of combat system. Now knowing EVE players, it’s very likely they won’t settle for a simple combat system. They want to train skills, combine equipment, use tactics and multi-pronged attack manouvers. This sort of system is hugely complex. There’s also the issue of security, security status, CONCORD etc. Plus the issue of cloning, skill loss etc. I think it’s frank to say that there will not be life-threatening combat in the first release of this project. We’ve toyed with the idea of never being able to kill someone, only “wound them seriously” so that the docbots at the medical bay can patch you together to your same self, because you didn’t receive any brain damage. Hence no skill loss. But that still requires a system for combat. -Do we want to create a new MMPORG inside an existing MMPORG? Well, we’re halfway there with putting you in stations. But the short answer is: no combat to begin with.

After we launch the first release of walking in stations, if the forums explode with “can I plz kill ppl!?!?!” requests, we’ll consider them seriously and look at how to implement it in a reasonable way. Until then, it’s petting and hugging only ( not really but you get the idea ).

It was evident, even back in 2006, that CCP should eventually have an “in-station” concept.  At that time, games like WoW, SWG, and others (games that allowed for a wide variety of personal expression) had shown that the vast majority of game players prefer to be “in-character” as it were.  They wanted individuality.  They wanted some way to show they were different.  That clearly has not changed, as one of the major concerns for any newly released MMO is customization.  The Eve Online forums constantly ring with requests for paint jobs and logos and all other types of ship customizations as well.  So the need for Incarna or something like it has always been there, even for current Eve Online players.

But, how does Incarna fit the bill, and can it have dire consequences, and why didn’t we get it earlier?

First, I’ll answer that last bit about why didn’t we get it earlier.  We didn’t get it earlier because it would have sucked earlier.  Remember who Eve Online players are.  We are a dedicated, highly involved, and intelligent player base.  The typical player has at least one spreadsheet documenting “something” relating to the things they do, and more like use several third party programs to help maintain their grip in Eve.  In comparision, a WoW player would be lucky to know how to spell correctly.  So, CCP, while they could have done it earlier.. knew that they had higher expectations AND.. CCP knew that adding something like this could kill the game if not done right.

Which leads us to the second point.  Can it have dire consequences?  Absolutely.  Probably the most direct example would be PVE missions.  Currently all you need to do is dock up, select your Agent, start the convo, and you get your mission.  Now, imagine having to dock up, unattach from your ship (add time for animations here), spawn in the station (still more time), go to your Agent (still more time), run back to the dock (time.. see lots of time wasted here.. ), attach back to your ship (time, time, time), and then undock for the mission (time, where’d all the time go…?).  Other factors that will be problematic are things like mini-games, especially gambling, which could reduce players time in space as well as could have a huge economic impact, or consider also problems with buy/selling vanity items or communication problems.. the list can go on and on.  You also have the base problem of providing too little.. or too much.  So, it was very wise in my opinion for CCP to wait a while to get the concept down of what they want.

So, how does Incarna fit the bill?  Well, Incarna is multiple things, it’s a dual development tool that was utilized for both EVE Online and that twilightish vampire game whose name I don’t care to remember or even look up, which as people have already seen from the Character Creator.. is pretty freaking awesome.  Though it is somewhat limited in certain options (like clothes).  It allows people to customize who they are and “be” them somewhere.  From the indications above, it also appears to allow people to customize where they live as well.  Now, this base could be the foundation for alot of impressive additions to the game, including player made ones, which could really enhance the flavor and feel of Eve.. as well as starting new players in more comfortable surroundings.

The Problem of Now, Now, NOW

This is an issue though that every pilot, include you, should be concerned about.  Because honestly, if Incarna is released badly, then Eve will probably die a painful death.  There seems to be a big push to get Incarna out as soon as possible, including making it the next expansion and these forces have alot of pull in them.  First, there is the reality of getting more players.  Incarna will certainly do that initially.  The nature of Incarna will draw players who want a person to see as well as those who thought Eve Online as a bit “cold” personality wise.  In that group, will be a lot of female players which would help the current player base even more by adding personality to the game.  The second push is from players who are always demanding something new, a fair sized group who somehow think that every mere wish is a command for the developers.  The third push may in fact be the CSM, who is currently caught between overly demanding players, and a too secretative CCP.

Here’s what CCP (along with the CSM) should be thinking about right now:  Incarna needs to be very good AND have a useful purpose.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect.  For example, it doesn’t NEED to have that uber 3D conference space map all the developers are drooling over.  But it does need to have a reason for people to want to get into station.. other than to just say, “Hi.  This is nice.  Good-bye.”  Incarna doesn’t have to happen now.  Let it be the shiny that gets reasonably complete before we see it in SiSi.  If CCP’s setup isn’t reasonably good (which the CSM can really help with), then wait til it is.  In the meantime, work on low-sec, faction warfare, as well as things that could really utilize a station environment like smuggling, bounty hunting, marketing, etc.  So that when it DOES get released.. it will be epic.

(And if you want a few ideas on how Incarna could be Epic.. just drop me a line.)