Blog Banter #47: Know It All

Kirith Kodachi takes the reigns as overlord of the Blog Banter initiative, and starts things off with a banter about EVE knowledge.

“Ripard Teg over at Jester’s Trek wrote a post called Don’t Do Anything Stupid and offered it as the basis of a Blog Banter as he is curious what others feel on the subject. Personally, I’m restarting manufacturing that I haven’t done in years and finding myself having forgotten almost as much as I knew the first time around.

So this month’s Blog Banter will gravitate around knowledge, specifically EVE knowledge. Some examples of topics to cover: Is EVE too complex for one person to know everything? Is it, in fact, too complex for one person to know everything about one topic? How do you maintain any knowledge or skills related to EVE over time with breaks and expansions? Does CCP do a sufficient job documenting the features of the game, and if not, what could they do better? How does one determine where the gaps in their knowledge even are?

Starting up with EVE Online is a tough thing. I’ve seen it time and time again, where people first log in and take a casual glance around the game, and are immediately flattened by the immense breadth of … well, stuff. They’re ok though because they have a friend who’s been playing the game since it first came out right?  WRONG.

Well, maybe.  I mean the fundamentals of EVE Online are hard to define, because of that massive list of things you can actually do.  That ten year vet may be the biggest expert in the game when it comes to building things, but doesn’t have the foggiest about transversal velocity, or which hybrid ammo type is best to use at extreme long range. When you think about it, the only common denominators we all have to deal with are the user interface and the basic fundamentals of getting from one spot to another.

Taking even a relatively short break from the game can sometimes leave you playing catch-up with new and changed features. In the last year alone the GUI has been updated in many ways which may take some time to get used to, however the GUI is the easiest thing to get past. Mechanics changes are always much trickier to spot and adjust to, since sometimes they’re so subtle you may not even notice them — occasionally with fatal results.

Short of scouring patch notes, there aren’t many options for someone to look at to see a progressive list of improvements that may affect them. A full picture would include those notes, dev blogs, forum posts by developers, game news items, and potentially even feature pages for expansions.  It’s all very scattered about.

I think the biggest problem here is that EVE doesn’t self-document itself very well at all. The new player tutorials have had many revisions since they first came to the game, and even after that they don’t provide all the utility that they should. They get the fundamentals through well enough, but could definitely go deeper into some of the coarse grained “roles” of the game than they currently do.

Once fully engaged in-game though, you’re pretty much left to your own devices. With all the improvements made to the UI, there are still major inconsistencies between features. Compare ship fitting, planetary management, POS management, in-space drone bay, the market, and your skill sheet.  Yes, I realize they serve very different purposes in the game, but there is almost no consistency between them. Taken on their own, they all look like they’re from different games.

There’s always room for improvement, especially in a game as complex and ever-changing as EVE. Maybe the patch notes areas could be improved to index changes by categories and allow us to summarize changes from version x to version y, and maybe the game just needs to be able to better communicate itself to players. I imagine most veteran players such as myself have little issue with the way the game currently functions, yet (for the most part) welcome the improvements as they come. Everyone has their own way of coping with changes and dealing with their own little EVE world, but one thing’s for certain: nobody knows it ALL.


Blog Banter 38: Tweaking the Machine

Another blog banter?  Alright then, lets see what Seismic Stan has for us today:

“In his recent “That’s just the way it is” post on Jester’s Trek, blogger Ripard Teg posits that the established EVE player-base has come to accept many of EVE’s design idiosyncrasies, rarely questioning their purpose or benefit. Conversely, he also suggests that new players might not be so forgiving of these “quirks”. In an interview with Gamasutra, Senior Producer CCP Unifex describes EVE Online’s developers as “relatively hands-off janitors of the virtual world”, underlining that he has only four content developers but “a lot” of programmers and engineers.

Has a culture developed where CCP has started to take player effort for granted – expecting the “social engine” to fulfill tasks that might otherwise be CCP’s responsibility? Or should this culture be embraced as part of “emergent gameplay” with these quirks accepted as the catalyst for interaction?”

Player effort has always been central to EVE, from the very beginning. CCP deliberately made this the core of the game from the get go, providing the complicated-but-barren-landscape sandbox we all jumped in to.  The lure of the blank canvas, as I like to say.

There was a time when CCP was fucking terrible at servicing the community, and its players picked up the slack in spades. Chribba alone provided EVE its own micro-Google in the form of EVE Search, and EVE Files gave us cloud storage for our EVE related content before cloud storage was a thing. I’ve never seen a game where a player has set up a data center to support a free service to a game’s community before.

The renaissance came when CCP finally realized how powerful APIs are, and externalized large chunks of data for use through them.  The community has been dry humping the concept ever since, with incredible efforts like automated killboard operations, Dotlan maps — effectively the Google Maps of EVE, etc.  CCP’s half-baked effort EVE Gate brought some exposure of the game’s data to the masses, letting us view our mails and see some calendar stuff outside of the game, but they failed miserably to iterate on the initial concept.

This iterative thinking is an awesome concept when it comes to applications, but with a game as complex as EVE with as many creaking, sometimes-moving parts as it has it can become challenging to take features which blow and give them a nice polish. This is one of the reasons why there are little things in EVE which suck for no reason at all (the aforementioned “quirks”).

I don’t think CCP is blind to this though.

It’s long been thought by some that even though EVE Online is a fantastic and unique online gaming experience, the UI is a horrible, disgusting mess.  Granted some of those folks think everything would be solved by having an ability bar and the capability mod the interface (go back to WoW), but I think a happy medium is achievable by CCP without compromising the design it has worked so hard on.

This effort is not only happening, but has been in progress for quite some time now. The fruits of their labors can be seen throughout the current-state EVE client, with streamlined dialogs, useful keyboard and mouse shortcuts, UI scaling, and other goodies.  I mean the Jump button being your one-click-stop for warping to a gate at zero  and jumping through is so awesome and painfully obvious I’m shocked it wasn’t there from the beginning.

I know, I’m dancing around a point, so lets get to that: CCP needed to lapse back into janitorial mode. It needed to take a step back and start looking at the current engine of the game and make sure it was running smooth.  It needed to make sure the front end of the game was less intimidating to new players but still have the power advanced players needed (no small task, I imagine).

In order to do that, you have to hand other responsibilities to a different custodian, so liberating game data through APIs allows the all-too-willing playerbase to pick up that slack. This goes beyond the simple “emergent gameplay” phrase kicked around. Emergent gameplay for some in the industry is having Twitter notifications of achievements. EVE is a so far beyond the bleeding edge in this regard it’s not even funny, with CCP intimately collaborating with its players to ensure the in- and out-of-game experience is what they want.

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Blog Banter 37: A Line Removed

Blog Banters have been going on for quite a while, and are currently being managed by Seismic Stan over at Freebooted.  For some reason I’ve not really participated in them. Hoping to change that, lets delve into the latest banter offering:

“EVE Online sits on the frontier of social gaming, providing an entertainment environment like no other. The vibrant society of interacting and conflicting communities, both within the EVE client and without, is the driving force behind EVE’s success. However, the anonymity of internet culture combined with a competitive gaming environment encourages in-game behaviour to spread beyond the confines of the sandbox. Where is the line?”

Frontiers are interesting things.  They are unexplored places where the promises new discoveries and riches are balanced against fear of the unknown, and the risks of walking a path that has never been traveled before.

There are those that would like you to think that EVE Online is a game, but it kind of isn’t.  Oh it may wear the guise of a game like some dude trying on his wife’s dresses while she’s out, but it’s more like a universe simulator than a game proper. For we who visit this universe by logging in, EVE presents a frontier to be explored and exploited, risked, and even feared.

The formula for EVE presents a compelling picture of this frontier for players, and in my opinion can be summarized by the following statement: “It’s a blank slate populated by people, using things that people make with materials people work hard to obtain, all presented in singleton form.”

What you do in-game matters to others. You cannot escape causality.

The fact that all of this is driven by people on the internet is where things start to get quite interesting.  No other game really has this special mix of in-game holyshits and out-of-game whatthefucks, and it’s not because of the impressive nebula textures or the impressive server architecture. It’s because ripping off an alliance hangar can pay off your credit card debt, and the things you say in public at an EVE event could land you smack in the middle of a trending Twitter topic.

Back to the original question “Where is the line?”, the answer is almost impossible to define. The most obvious would be “is what I’m about to do illegal?”, and debate whether the potential repercussions are worth taking that next step.

It’s probably more interesting to ask the question “Where did the line go?”, since it’s much easier to answer: CCP took the line, and buried it in gravel somewhere for three months.  Then, piece by rotting piece, they ate it with a chaser of Brennivín as a test of manliness.

They did this by purposefully designing a system which fosters and rewards those who play it fast and loose with regards to the morality of their actions.

Happen upon someone absent-mindedly autopiloting around with all their expensive stuff through lowsec? Relieving them of all that burden nets you a nice reward. The game itself reimburses this with a bunch of numbers that go up. Your wallet will have more ISK in it, your security status gets a bigger (though maybe negative) number, you have more stuff to use or sell, maybe the bounty on your head gets some love.

Then the system lovingly delivers a shiny new kill mail to your inbox. You post it to your killboard, so you can see how you and your friends fought together against the blight on the universe known as Relocating Stuff. It computes a nice big number telling you just how hard you kicked that player in the balls, and aggregates it all into your own personal stats pile.

The spirit of this type of event is present everywhere in and out EVE – the gates, the asteroid belts, the marketplace, the forums, the blogs, and the media. And in my opinion, the community dramabombs blow up with explosions more glorious than those of any ship. Why? Well, they inspire current and potential players to look at EVE in a new light, one which highlights how there really isn’t anything out there quite like this.

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