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Sins of a Solar Spymaster #61 - In Defense of Incarna

Updated Tue, Apr 26, 2011 by The Mittani

Like it or not, things are changing in EVE Online and Incarna will hail the first wave of many big changes to the space-based MMOG. The game will no long be just about spreadsheets and spaceships, but cosmetics and avatars as well. The Mittani is all for a bit of change and has something to say about CCP's plans for EVE in this week's Sins of a Solar Spymaster #61 - In Defense of Incarna.

I am going to write something tremendously unpopular, something which will get me accused of being a sellout (a function of my ‘free trip to Iceland’ as part of being CSM Chair, no doubt) or a CCP marketing shill. The tide of public opinion is firmly against me. Yet - perhaps out of sheer stubbornness or my tendency towards spite - I am going to defend Incarna.

EVE Changes

When CCP introduced the concept of ‘Walking in Stations’, which later was dubbed Incarna, it was considered by the playerbase to be a neat feature, something anticipated with some eagerness given the snazzy trailers associated with it. We were introduced to ‘Ambulation’ and the company’s marketing department developed an expectation that Incarna would see the light of day ‘soon’. Then - much like how ‘corp and alliance logos on ships’ were introduced at the 2007 Fanfest - four years passed. And in those four years, things got ugly.

The playerbase of today is a more jaded one than the playerbase who lauded Incarna when it was first introduced. We have experienced the Summer of Discontent, watched as the CSM developed from a nonentity to a force directly opposed to CCP, and seen a whole host of features added to the game only to be seemingly abandoned by the company - Faction Warfare, T3 Ships, 70% or more of the original Dominion nullsec revamp, and Wormholes, just to name a few. When CCP began to work on developing Incarna in earnest, they discovered that the mood of their customers had shifted from optimism to outright hostility - and much of that hostility has focused on Incarna and what it represents.

When at Fanfest 2011, I listened to both the EVE and the CCP keynotes and heard catcalls from the audience whenever Incarna features were advertised for too long. The refrain was catchy and infectious: “Where’s the f***ing spaceships?” In 2006, Incarna would expand EVE and add immersion; in 2011, Incarna is seen as a distraction from iterating on abandoned features, all of which revolve around spaceships. When CCP Zulu, now the ‘big boss’ of EVE, released a blog announcing how many devs were working on Incarna - more than 70 - compared to ‘Flying in Space’ - the part of EVE most of us consider to be EVE itself - the reaction from the playerbase was immediate and vehement.

Yet Incarna is not something which we can ignore. Not only is it inevitable, it is a fundamental necessity if EVE is to achieve any status greater than that of an awkward niche MMO from a strange, sulfuric island where people eat sheep’s heads willingly and believe in elves. Here’s why:

DUST 514 Command

The Immersion Problem: There is nothing immersive about a spreadsheet, unless you think that being an actuary is a fun line of work. Yet most of EVE is based around spreadsheets; the overview is a spreadsheet, the market is a spreadsheet, combat is full of squares and brackets and little colored squares on top of brackets. That’s crap - EVE is supposed to be a dystopian science fiction game/simulation, not a training ground for the next generation of accountants. At a psychological level, one of the ‘hooks’ of MMORPGs is the player coming to identify with their avatar and feeling attached to them; in EVE the only ‘character’ we see is a tiny portrait, usually hidden behind a minimized NeoCom. There is nothing particularly different about my various characters besides their portraits and the entries in another spreadsheet, the skill window.

As CCP and many players have discovered over the years, it’s very easy to walk away from a game where there is no immersion or emotional attachment to a character. Players in EVE may get attached to alliances, corps, and social bonds, but characters are bought, sold, and dropped as casually as CCP dropped the Gallente. If EVE is to advance beyond spreadsheets into evoking an alternate reality, avatars which players care about emotionally are crucial.

The World of Darkness Engine: When CCP acquired White Wolf and announced the development of a World of Darkness MMO, some EVE players expressed skepticism. Under the Carbon framework - set up to provide cross-compatible code between CCP’s various projects - the code for Incarna is, de facto, the base engine for creating environments within the WoD MMO. Those in the ‘Where’s the Spaceships’ camp resent the resources devoted to what they see as an entirely separate title; in their view, Incarna in EVE is an excuse for an engine test for WoD.

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