Monday, February 21, 2011

Initial Thoughts On Captain's Quarters

CCP Chiliad's dev blog on Captain's Quarters, the first part of Eve Online's Incarna expansion, is already fueling controversy.  Council of Stellar Management 5 member TeaDaze has announced he is quitting Eve over the implementation of Incarna.  Seleene, the famous commander of Mercenary Coalition during its heyday and former Eve developer CCP Abathur, had this passage on his campaign blog for CSM6.
"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."
Both TeaDaze and Seleene are avid PvPers.  However, the mass majority of players never leave high-sec.  For them, the vision of Eve Online as a is more attractive (at least until the mercs in DUST 514 start taking out everyone's planetary interaction colonies).  Goonswarm Federation leader (and Ten Ton Hammer columnist) The Mittani wrote this in the official Captain Quarter's feedback thread.
"the cool-kid reply you're going to see is that space dollies etc aren't awesome and that this feature sucks, but in reality if this is properly implemented in stages it's going to be amazing from an immersion perspective, and eve desperately needs some immersion (as it has basically zilch)"
The debate is largely about Incarna and the introduction of avatars to New Eden.  But how about Captain's Quarters itself?  CCP Chiliad wrote this in describing the new feature:
"Captain’s Quarters will offer interactions in the 3D space like slouching on your sofa and clicking an interface on the wall to bring up the planetary interaction (PI) interface, customizing your appearance through a vanity mirror and adjusting your fittings through a holo-model of your ship. There are a couple of very slick, completely new features we’re also bringing in but we’ll talk about those in greater detail in future dev blogs. These first Captain’s Quarters are designed mainly as an entry level capsuleer environment with basic functionality. We are also reworking the new player crash course into an epic arc that works with the Captain’s Quarters while also improving on some existing features and content tools beyond Incarna. To fans of Aura we’ve got some good news. She will make a come-back after losing her voice in the Apocrypha expansion. We can rebuild her."
This description of the feature really got me thinking.  First, when I heard of Captain's Quarters, I thought introducing player housing first was a good business decision.  My experience in EverQuest 2 is that a lot of players really enjoy housing and will spend hours fixing their homes up just right.  And listening to RIFT Podcast #31, players continually ask the developers at Trion about player housing in RIFT.  But player housing doesn't just attract players.  At GDC 2010 in San Franciso last year, Gordon Walton of BioWare (oops, now Playdom) pointed out during a panel on player retention in MMOs that in Ultima Online the data showed that players who had houses stayed subscribed longer than people who didn’t.  So getting Captain's Quarters up and running first makes sense.

The mention of the first Captain's Quarters designed for entry level functionality gives me hope that we will see different levels of housing in Eve Online.  I would love to see different levels of housing, ranging from basic free transient housing that players cannot modify up to expensive deluxe housing in the major trade hubs.  I not only want the choice to rearrange the furniture, but the UI elements embedded inside the quarters as well.  I also hope to see prices for housing not only based on the unit itself but also its location.  Eve Online already does this for corporation offices and games like EverQuest 2 also factor in location for housing prices and rent. 

While I'm wishing, I'd also like a capsuleer's standings to affect access to housing.  After all, should someone with -4.0 standing with Minmatar be able to own a home in Rens?  Maybe the Republic can let them dock and conduct business.  But live?  No way! And if you have a nice fancy apartment in a station and you decide to go to war against that faction by doing kill missions and lose your nice fancy digs you spent a lot of money on?  Well, this is the sandbox, and actions have consequences.

Perhaps the part of the dev blog that brought the biggest smile to my face is that Aura is back!  And not only in your ship, but hopefully in the new housing as well.  A talking computer in your quarters?  Now that is a component of science-fiction I have read about my whole life I look forward to.

Of course, I do have some concerns based on this passage of the dev 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. When you dock you will appear on the balcony by default. One important requirement in our approach to Captain’s Quarters is that none of it will get in the way of a veteran player. You can dock, repair and refit your ship, dump your cargo into your hangar inventory and talk to agents with the same ease as you currently have. Throughout our discussions, the Council of Stellar Management (CSM) has been adamant about this as well as about the load times when docking. Our UI guys are working on some pretty amazing things, and they will keep the current usability very much in mind, aiming to further improve it."
I hope that "you will appear on the balcony by default" really means that players will have the option, and not the requirement, to automatically appear on the balcony.  While standing on the balcony looking up is a cool concept, sometimes I want the option to look at the top and sides of my ship when I'm docked.  Also, I want the ability to just have the station's crew load or unload my cargo while I sit in my ship.  I don't want to have to get out of my pod, get all dressed up so I look pretty on the balcony, then have to get back in my pod.  Okay, maybe that is a bit too much role-play, but part of the rationale behind Incarna is to bring immersion into the game.  I hope someone is thinking how automatically appearing on a balcony, in some situations, is immersion breaking.

Also, I don't see how showing up on the balcony and then running to your quarters to use the UI located there is more convenient than the current system.  Let's take my style of play as an example.  I am a bit unusual since I like to haul things and fulfill courier contracts.  So let's say I have a cargo hold full of crates I'm delivering to Rens 6-8.  Currently, I just get into the station, open up my cargo hold, open up station storage, move the crate, click deliver, and then I'm on my way.  Forget about the role-play aspects for a bit.  Am I going to have the UI available on the balcony to do these things, or do I have to run to my quarters to use the controls there?  If I have to go to my room, the question is, why?

Yes, CCP Chiliad says we will have the ability to perform all our current tasks with the "same ease of use."  Please define "ease of use."

I really like the idea of Incarna.  I love player housing in MMORPGs.  I just hope that CCP, in an effort to get players to play with the new shiny toy, don't manage to actually take away some of the immersion I currently enjoy.  I am going to guess no, just because this is such a big step for the company that not only affects Eve Online, but for the other two games the company has in development, DUST 514 and World of Darkness.  Because you know those games will need player housing as well

I guess that is the other problem players have.  Eve players are the guinea pigs, and some people don't like to be the objects of an experiment.  Me?  Well, I like the promise of what CCP is attempting to accomplish too much.  I'm one of those people who love the idea of "the ultimate sci fi simulator" more than the PvP, even though the PvP does drive the economy all the carebears love.

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