Friday, 26 November 2010

Learning Skills and the Progress Quest Problem

I've ended up with a fairly mixed feeling over the Learning Skills removal, so I thought I'd blog about it.

On the plus side:
It's not entirely clear to me what function learning skills were supposed to have. It looks like they were designed to promote specialisation, which is something that EvE does in a variety of ways. The fundamental problem with that is that a) they didn't do that very well and b) they did it early in a character's life, rather than late.

On (a) - rather than promoting specialisation, they were just a requirement that the majority of people trained up, as early as they could bear to. Most EveMon plans I came up with had an extensive period of learning skill training to optimize them. I trained some, played hookey on others, because I wanted the useful stuff earlier.

(b) is poor game design, and this is the same reason that CCP introduced attribute remaps and changed character creation. It's not as easy in EVE to start over with a new character as it is in some other games. Penalising a character forever for their early choices is a poor idea - you want people to try it, get into it and /then/ specialise once they understand the choices they're making. Now, learning skills could always be trained up, so you could de-specialise in one direction and move in another. But that's the opposite of the way you actually want it to be - if they did anything at all, they created a bubble of specialisation that started early then went away.

Now the minus side:
Players want to progress. In other MMO's, this has largely become the sole purpose. Actually playing and enjoying the game seems to be a foreign concept - if it's not maximising your XP per hour, or getting you a cool item, it's not worth doing. EVE has slightly less of this, but the desire to progress is still an important driver.

It's a driver that eats games, though. Because players are always going to want to progress faster. Everything that impedes progress is an obstacle that ideally will be removed. It's important that the owners of the game resist this. Yes, remove things that are unintentional blocks, but don't remove things that you want characters to have to do. Everquest made a horrible error when they introduced "The Planes of Power" (and to a lesser extent, "The Shadows of Luclin" - suddenly, the world went from being a big and dangerous place where travelling was an often exciting and significant prospect, to it being an easy pop across two continents to pick up lunch. That was the point that the game became less interesting to me. The desire of players to progress quicker is an insatiable monster, and it eats games and spits them out as pale shadows of what they once were.

Particularly pernicious is the desire of new players to be super-duper powerful. They will always couch it as "being able to compete", but it's a sham. EVE is already a game in which it's possible to be useful to and active in a corp remarkably quickly. Here's a frigate, there's a warp disruptor, go tackle. Or whatever. Be the little guy for a while. Because, actually, being the little guy is fun. Don't try to win the game in the first week of playing it - you won't be able to, and if you were, you'd hate the game and be done with it in weeks.

Looking at the Learning Skills change, the big improvement is from 1.6 million skillpoints up to about 4 million, which I roughly calculate to be about week 4 of a character's arrival to week 12 or so. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. But I don't think it should go much further than that. Leave the rest alone.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


*Clueless F*cking Noob*

I'm an EVE Newbie. I've been playing for about four months now, discounting a brief trial back in 2004 (really brief). And I've managed to get past the "clueless" bit of this - I understand basic things about the game. I know what the buttons do. I know what much of the terminology means. I've been on both sides of PvP battles.

I'm still a Noob. There are vast swathes of the game that I don't know about. Have never seen. I can't fly vastly powerful spaceships. I'm not and have never been in a nullsec corp. And I love this. EVE is hard, dangerous and huge in both a physical sense and a knowledge sense, and there is no hurry to conquer it all. My enjoyment isn't linked to some deluded power drive - it can't be, because that's ultimately futile. There's always someone bigger.

And here's the thing: I don't ever want to stop being a Noob. I want to keep finding out new things, flying new ships, going to new places and getting blown up by new people. I want to keep the "this is cool!" thing going. And I want to avoid becoming cynical, believing that I know and have seen it all. I've been there, I've done that, in many other games and places. It's dull, negative and it means you stop having fun.

“There are worlds out there where the skies are burning, where the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice... and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on Ace...we've got work to do!”

Friday, 5 November 2010


I was listening to the "NotALotOfNews News Hour" podcast - and there was a discussion on Incarna, based on the CSM meeting minutes. Given that what's likely to be delivered in Incarna seems to be very much in an inchoate state, I decided to have a think about it. And not just because "What would you like to have in your "Captain's Cabin"?" sounds rude.

Some thoughts, in no particular order:

  1. If the developers are going to err, err in the direction of making Incarna chrome (i.e. attractive but basically non-critical-functionality), rather than have it negatively impact the current game.
  2. Expanding the existence of our characters beyond their ships is potentially strongly game enhancing.
  3. If it ends up being like stations in Star Trek: Online, it'll just be annoying. 
  4. EVE is a slow-paced game, with a grimy futuristic feel. Incarna should enhance that, rather than make it seem more shiny and clean.
  5. It would be really nice to be able to look out of a station window and see ships coming in/going out, etc, rather than having the stations feel like separate worlds.
  6. It would be nice if the stations were differentiable in some way, rather than all being clones of each other.
  7. If there are NPCs, and they are mission-giving, they should in NO WAY have big yellow question-marks over their head. Wrong feeling, wrong tone, wrong idea. Incarna should enhance the experience, not make "running about collecting qwests" an irritating and time-consuming necessity.

While I'm on missions, they really are a bit lacklustre, aren't they? The following conversation is typical:

Shay Deebloak (Agent): Laria Raven, out in the depths of space the Ivil Company is running illegal drugs, hidden in the holds of innocent-looking frigates. The customs officials race frantically from station to station, gate to gate, attempting to stop them getting through. Despite my misgivings about you, I feel that you have the ability to help in this battle.

Laria Raven (Me!): Oh...coool... I'm up for that, on the side of good, trying to stop these dirty smugglers! So, what's it to be - policing a blockade? A letter of marque? Blowing them up as they approach the station?

Shay Deebloak: Could you take these documents to the next system, please?

Laria Raven: ...

Shay Deebloak: It's important! For reasons that will never be very clear! I'll pay you moderately well! And if you come back, I may well ask you to do exactly the same thing again!

Laria Raven: ... meh.

It seems to me that if Incarna can be used to leverage more dynamic, less repetitive, more involved missions, that would be a positive.

Also, there should be bars. Cantinas. Whatever. (Actually, I think that's a given).

It seems unlikely that there's a way to stop there being lots of idiots in station alternating between yelling "Boobies", spamming, and whinging about how their ship got blown up and now they have nothing and how could this happen? (Gee brain, I dunno, possibly because you ignored everything you've been told ever, and attacked the game like it was a cross between X-Wing vs Tie-Fighter and World Of Warcraft.)

Back to my list

  1. (actually, 8, but html does not like long digressions). I want to change my character's clothes. Just occasionally. So she doesn't stink. This kind of thing isn't for everyone. It's pointless and useless and so it's exactly the sort of thing that Incarna can and should do.
  2. I want people to be able to organise events, entertainment, amusing stories. I want there to be an in-game news channel I can watch.
  3. There should be gambling. I know this is contentious, but I can't imagine EVE as a place where it doesn't go on.
I guess, in the end, what I'm saying is that Incarna should be a genuine expansion, rather than a modification of what's already there. Because what's already there is pretty darn good. Open the world up, rather than modifying it.

Some of this is hard. But it seems to me like EVE has the ideal platform for dynamic content, because of the sheer amount of space in the universe. Lets have some ambition (particularly in missions).

Oh, and as for what I want in my Captain's Cabin? (or my Lieutenant's Locker? (Or my Midshipman's Manor (or my Ensign's Enclave (or my Admiral's... Annexe....))) I want it to be a space that (a) feels private, so perhaps a limited amount of customisation. (b) I can invite people to and (c) uh... You know, I'm really not sure.

...TS is coming to EVE... I can feel it...