Thank you very much everyone for placing me on CSM 6 and now on CSM 7 where I am currently serving as the Chairman! If you would like to contact me directly, do not hesitate to just send me an eve mail in game. Keep your eyes here and watch for new posts.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Incarna - Will history repeat itself?

You WILL use Incarna... or else!
So after a lot of speculation and general emo, CCP finaly published something of a dev blog yesterday on Incarna.

For those who haven't read the dev blog, it basically provides some concept art showing the new Captain's Quarters, described what would be in the initial roll out of Incarna, stated that CCP would approach Incarna in lots of iterative small steps (similar to Incursion) and included some promises, mainly that we'd see a version of the CQ on SiSi before FanFest and that more details would be provided at FanFest.

It sounds great, doesn't it? Judging from some of the rather sugary responses in the official comments thread, you'd think this is the best thing since sliced bread but I think it is worth setting aside rabid fan-gasming and taking a more analytical look at what this blog offers and promises.

First, some positives:

Incremental roll-out of this fundamental change to EVE is a good idea. Look how well that has worked for Incursions. For brand new technology unproven as yet through trial by fire, small steps are the only rational way to approach it, for both game stability and the developers' sanity! It's great to see CCP taking this approach to heart, although I admit the reference to "not rushing it" came across as heavily ironic, considering Incarna has been through so many revisions that it has taken over four years and three name changes to get to this point.

I also like the 'immersion' factor that CCP keeps going on about though.  From the blog:
"Another big change is that the current station hangar will be replaced with an enhanced balcony view where your character can gaze upwards at the majesty of your vessel as it looms above you inside the station."
Shit is getting real, apparently! How awesome is it going to be to stand on a balcony and stare out at my three-kilometer long Carrier inside a space station which must be...what? The size of Delaware?  FYI, the state of Delaware is 30 miles (48 km) wide and 96 miles (154 km) long which, according to CCP's artists, is the approximate scale of several stations in EVE. Now THAT'S immersion!

Seriously, revisiting this YouTube video from 2008, you can see just how much the vision for Incarna has changed from the initial implementation:

To be honest, four or five years ago Incarna was really nothing but a pipe dream. Now it seems, there is actual work being done, and able to be done, with Carbon in place and the depth of staff to deal with it.

A little history, if you'll indulge me. My first glimpse of what was then called, 'Walking in Stations' was back at FanFest 2006, shortly before I was hired at CCP.  It was there where we saw the beginning of what would become four very long years of development hell. There was a lot of buzz and video presentations talking all about how we would 'soon' be able to wander around the stations, take in the sights and generally look very awesome doing so.  We met Ambulation Man, a tough Caldari dude, and everyone looked at each other with a mixture of awe and ambivalence.

I am Ambulation Man. The code for me no longer exists.

What did it all mean? Could we stab each other with spoons? Stalk each other across an entire station? Conduct urban guerrila assaults?! Own dress shops? Be assured of a better selection of sunglasses?  The same questions that players are asking about Incarna today were being asked back then. They have been getting asked in all the years since. At least a couple of such questions have been answered by the dev blog.

Which leads to the negatives:

What is the game play for Incarna intended to be? There has been nothing substantial offered in answer to questions about game play. From this dev blog, it appears there will be no game play for months associated with Incarna, and what is mentioned doesn't have any detail associated with it that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling that there is a Plan. Hopefully there IS a Plan, one we might even be shown at FanFest rather than some attitude of just throwing shit against a wall to see if it sticks.

Will docking into CQ create more lag? It was alluded to in the past that Incarna would run on different servers than EVE-in-space. OK, fine. But if true, it makes me wonder how CCP is going to make docking into our quarters no slower than currently docking today. I am curious as to why they couldn't be more clear about whether there will be options to dock and NOT disembark from the ship into the CQ. Which leads to my next question:

Will CQ be required? Are we going to be forced to interact with Incarna? If so why? I predict enormous rage from players if interaction is enforced and that enforcement imposes time penalties that don't exist today.

Will there be ANY kind of PvP in stations? Will activities in stations affect what happens in space? The dev blog suggests the possibility although in very murky language. My long time friend and corp mate, Max Teranous, made a post on Scrapheap Challenge yesterday that sums up some of my feelings about this:
"Torfi's argument is that an all powerful demigod pod pilot alliance leader, in charge of thousands of pilots, trillions of ISK, shouldn't be allowed to be attacked by a bloke with a spoon. Oh, and coz of RP, as a pod pilot is actually killable outside his pod. With hindsight it also looks like CCP are wanting the DUST connection to be the avatar combat part of Eve, but i don't have a console and am not going to buy one so that's a non starter for me personally.

My argument has always been that you have to create a combat system within the eve technology framework anyway for WoD, and you have to have that capability built into the engine from the beginning, not create an avatar system for just wandering about then bolt on a combat system afterwards. So if you have the technology in the engine anyway, may as well make use of it in some way for Eve."
One thing that is known is that DUST and EVE will be connected through some kind of <insert smoke and mirrors here>, but it's obviously not going to have a thing to do with the avatars you are creating for Incarna.  What we are doing now with the new character creator is purely for the immersion factor. This means a lot to folks who see EVE as a glorified set of chat windows, but it doesn't mean much to people who enjoy blowing people up and stealing their stuff.

The apparent utter lack of any focus on potential PvP angles in Incarna is concerning. I doubt I'm alone in stating that if CCP had spent the last four years refining Planetary Interaction / Incarna to be more along the lines of Planetary Warfare / Mech Piloting, there might be more excitement among the current player base. Even better, a complete re-focus on nothing but the spaceship aspect of the game would most likely have made a lot (dare I say a majority, especially of longer-term) players happy...ecstatic even.  Imagine where EVE might be today had all of these Art and technical resources been put toward Sovereignty iteration, Factional Warfare expansion, a Low Sec makeover, Industrial balancing and just every day spaceship balancing and iteration.

But, water under the bridge. Incarna is here, it's coming, whether we like it or not. So...

Deal with it, amirite?

Personally, I have reluctantly accepted that Incarna will be a part of EVE because the powers that be have deemed it essential to both their marketing strategy and necessary technological milestones. That said, I am at odds with this design paradigm for the simple reason that, to me, EVE Online has always been a game about spaceships. Unfortunately, CCP is more focused on some grandiose vision of "ultimate sci fi simulator" instead of effort to improve the GAME PLAY of the best spaceship PVP game on the market. They continue to push in all directions at once, which might be worth buying into if there was some evidence of a cohesive plan that connects it all and gives each element a reason to exist in a game play context.

Let me explain, briefly. I subscribe to EVE to participate in meaningful game play, where my actions have a direct causal effect on my environment. Both by my own and other people's choices, and by consequences of my own and other people's actions. This causality perseveres in EVE, and it has done so from the start. Here's an example:

I want to dock my Zealot into a drop ship the size of a Carrier and switch over to my customized Mech, which then gets dropped screaming through the atmosphere while being supported by orbital bombardment platforms. I want to see tanks, mechs, artillery and air support scurrying around on the ground as I fire my anti-grav and come in for a landing. I want to hit the ground running while enemy defenses scramble.  I want something deep and epic the likes of which would make the creators of Planetside go, "Christ, I knew we sucked but not THAT badly!"

In a universe as big as New Eden, shouldn't there be more than just blobs of capitals pew-pewing some magical space tower or mechanisms on gates to lay claim to a system? You want to own a system? You need to capture the capital city on its home world! You airlock its President and pillage the globe like a damn space viking! If the population doesn't comply, you flatten their cities until they do!

Planetary Interaction - Seleene style!
THAT, my friends, is IMMERSION. THAT is the sandbox. But alas, after four years of meetings, development and re-development, marketing spin, and awesomeness, we have... a mandatory Captain's Quarters (CQ)?  Immersion = sitting alone in my CQ doing stuff with myself. Awesome? Hardly.

I fully realize that at some point in the future we will probably be able to own an 'establishment' of some sort where we can frolic inside of a bar and do things like play mini-games or watch pixel girls dance.

Not a mock-up. This is a real screen shot.
She has tattoos!  WTF?!

I'm still not sure what any of this has to do with the hard core PVP game I've been playing since early 2003 but it's apparently inevitable and we are going to have to find a way to deal with it. The sad part is, with a little effort, there are lots of potential ways that Incarna could integrate into the EVE-the-space-game in meaningful and substantive ways. CCP likes to hint that is coming but until they show some evidence that they have actually given it more than five minutes' worth of thought, call me a skeptic. I'll believe it when I see it.

But I'm just one person, with one opinion. It's interesting reading all the replies to in the official comments thread related to this dev blog and it occurs to me that there are some useful ways one could analyze the responses.


  1. Just a comment that I general have in most situations like this (ie.. company is bringing new product out...)


    And you mentioned how to take sov of a system, you need to take control of the planets and such. Fairly certain thats what Dust is going to be doing.

    And as I and others have said, is low sec REALLY broken? or is it peoples perception of it that is broken?

    While I admit I have not been playing anywhere as long as you have, I simply cannot see what exactly is 'broken' about the game and what apparently needs fixing. I may be naive however.

  2. Very well written article. Refreshingly free from all the bitter-vet rage on SHC.

    @TertraEtc What's better: getting captain quarters?
    Or maybe: a fix for hybrids, overheaul of T3 subsytems, iteration on FW? Or, hell, how about some new ships to fly?

  3. Tetra - I'm not 'bitching' about any one thing; I'm pointing out a series of glaring inconsistencies that have taken place over a period of years. Everyone has a right to their opinion. After all, PERCEPTION IS REALITY and my perspective on this is fairly unique as I've seen this particular project being developed over years, both as a player and a designer at the company. Historical precedent is often consulted in other fields, so there is no reason why it shouldn't at least be considered when it comes to EVE/Incarna.

    Thanks for your comments and I'll work to address more of these issues in future blogs. :)

  4. @Tetra: Seleene's questioning analysis and informed opinion is exactly what he will be expected to deliver as a CSM6 member, so I applaud him for it. The whole point of the CSM is to call bullshit on CCP, to assess potential game changes based on community desires, and provide CCP with meaningful feedback. That is more effective BEFORE resources are invested in art, coding, and other development than after the fact when what gets delivered is way off the mark.

  5. "Shit is getting real, apparently! How awesome is it going to be to stand on a balcony and stare out at my three-kilometer long Carrier inside a space station which must be...what? The size of Delaware? FYI, the state of Delaware is 30 miles (48 km) wide and 96 miles (154 km) long which, according to CCP's artists, is the approximate scale of several stations in EVE. Now THAT'S immersion!"

    I would not get my hopes up on the feasibility of proper scale. Just consider the daunting challenge to replicate that without impeding on the experience of immersion. It is one thing to see a ship a few miles long, but another to walk around it. Unless CCP simply choose to not engage this perspective challenge, and avoid such areas of implementation.

    "Let me explain, briefly. I subscribe to EVE to participate in meaningful game play, where my actions have a direct causal effect on my environment. Both by my own and other people's choices, and by consequences of my own and other people's actions. This causality perseveres in EVE, and it has done so from the start."

    Here is something which really worries me in regards to awareness and vision from CCP. I understand what you are saying, and I agree with it. But, when you go over the interviews of the past few years, as well as publications in EON, Edge and industry specific portals, I get a strong impression of two things.

    1. CCP recognises that for the specific part of Incarna, that causality is not and will not be present between the various aspects of the environment niche without making a decision between sandbox and themepark (so to speak). That is good, but we should not forget that CCP has a traditional tendency to engage in content production rather than feature production. Something which may very well once again explain the apparent decision to not build upon the great strenght of EVE's principles (player driven events) for Incarna. In other words, to not pursue foundation elements for player driven trends or content. Which presents a concern for how well they will be able to balance resource allocations for the daunting task of challenging meaningful iteration for both spaceships and avatars (for both sales and retention).

    2. CCP does appear to not fully be aware of how such causality exists in every nook and cranny of EVE since the dawn of New Eden (as it is the human behaviour that provides this, and not the content or the features - they are mere instruments of that human behaviour), and only continues to widen and deepen through player driven events and trends. It opens the door for temptations like using Incarna as something between glue and lube between "spaceships", "avatars" and "consoleers", as well as between the various niches of these elements within the larger environment, ecosystem or IP (depends on which year CCP used what buzzword).
    It is one thing to provide immersion through alternative paths across environments and niches, but it is only a very small step from this presentation of "absence of causality and cohesion" to mindsets such as "X cannot be compelling unless it is enforced. And while I can understand that, in game theory and humane sciences and marketing alike there are big red flags waving against such a mindset.

  6. So, considering basic marketing (and CCP's visible improved steps towards capitalising on that) the step by step approach in both presentation and deployment is something I find very comforting. In contrast to popular belief it is a big break with CCP's methodology from all levels from creating vision to delivering both presentation and deliverables, but it is a very good approach. Not to mention how basic marketing can stabilise both acquisition and retention there. I'm glad to see CCP pick up on CSM concerns in expectation management.

    But the two things I pointed out as concern, they do stand out. CCP has a tradition of stone tablets. It also has a strong tradition of pursuing shiny. In simple terms, CCP traditionally expands the product vertically, as opposed to horizontally. While CCP does seek to expand horizontally, this is more visible in parallel product investments and not in widening the base of the flagship product on its own for stability.

    There are quite a few similarities to what in business development is known as the tower of Pisa syndrome. Picture a skyscraper, which gets floor after floor after floor, without its foundation being widened or made deeper. Not only does this influence perception of customers climbing up the skyscraper facing the impression of always having to go "up", it also creates vacancy trends on the lower floors. Not to mention the part of structural stability of a skyscraper on a narrow and shallow foundation, or even the daunting task of building stable bridges high up to other skyscrapers being built next to each other.

    For CCP as a venture, as an enterprise, this is really not a problem. Not when the focus is strictly financial value and reach within both industry and markets. But for the services established as products, it IS a topic.

  7. I can see Incarna being a very big can of worms for CCP to deal with.

    Imagine that your at war with another corp, and 2 pilots dock at a station; does this now mean that you can get the fisty cuffs out and have a punch up on the station or since your in the flesh you get stage fright?

    To be honest the whole thing seems more of a vain attempt to appeal to the 'avatar' crowd who think that they cannot connect to EVE because all they see is the ship and can't see beyond their own ego.

    Even if they do manage to get some more players who prefer avatars what will they really get? The players will get a shallow and mostly useless graphical chat room with avatars and a complex space game that they can't relate to. Both of which would probably result in them leaving very quickly.

    The next point is that if CCP are trying to attract people who can't see beyond their own avatar then are they really the right sort of people to even be PLAYING EVE at all??

    CCP have always said that EVE isn't for everyone; but when they do something that is essentially to extend their appeal to the non-standard crowd it seems like they are hurting the core game & loyal players to try and gain a few new ones.

  8. A bang-on blog entry Seleene.

    I'm one of those people who had very high hopes for Incarna, watching those hopes gradually recede over the years. The pipe-dream phase of the project held all kinds of wonders and dreams of immersion. I recall fond thoughts of that first corp meeting 'in person' where a person gets out of hand, and to restore order I simply draw out my sidearm and put one in their brain.

    I strongly object to this sudden (or gradual movement towards) a PG-13 re-rendering of Eve. I want my space to remain cold, harsh, and unforgiving. I want the tools to create content. I want to be in a sandbox.

    I always thought of the above as some of the guiding principals of Eve content, yet I feel that Eve in the form of Incarna is moving towards a theme park format. I'm making guesses on some of this stuff, but believe them to be educated guesses.

    The potential for content in Incarna is simply staggering. I dearly hope that CCP get their collective heads out each others asses.

  9. Although all your points are valid I would like to present a different way of thinking. Eventually the game has to expand outwards from its "hardcore PVP". No matter what the circumstances this is going to take resources from the rest of game development and we who enjoy the "Spaceship PVP" part of EVE are going to be upset. I present you an analogy:

    I live in Edmonton, Alberta and currently the city is undergoing (very) heated discussions over whether they should replace the aging NHL rink in town. Even though it is the oldest rink in the NHL, is missing many modern amenities such as executive boxes, a modern concourse and seats only 16000 fans (which in a hockey town such as this is sold out every single night), the fine citizens of this city are pissed that the government is considering pitching in to replace the arena.

    The common argument is: the current rink serves it's purpose just fine, there are other problems in the city that deserve the resources more, the new rink can just be patched up and repaired for less money.

    In the end however the rink will need to be replaced one way or another, concert events will begin shifting out of town and the place will collapse in on itself.

    Now it's not the best comparison but EVE is in a similar situation. To become better in itself EVE must grow vertically as well as horizontally (which I'll admit horizontal growth has been the only issue for CCP) to maintain it's dominance over the market and continue it's growth. There is no guarantee that the developers working on Incarna would have helped certain problems within the game (namely SOV mechanics) which don't forget CCP devoted time to "repairing" which turned out making the system worse or changing nothing depending on your view.

    As much as we the love the spaceship game, we have to come to understand that growth in a truly persistent universe such as this one is inevitable, Incarna will help EVE into the future as much younger games crumble away.

    Keep CCP accountable but don't shit on their grandiose vision of "ultimate sci fi simulator"