Incarna Incarnate: An EVE Online Q&A with Torfi Frans Ólafsson

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Torfi Frans, looking slightly tougher than usual (but only slightly).
At EVE FanFest 2009 last weekend, CCP trained its marketing turrets on the newly revealed console-based MMOFPS DUST 514, the total out-of-game experience with New Eden, and the new alliance vs. alliance friendly Dominion expansion coming this December. But one aspect of EVE Online's future was intentionally downplayed: Incarna (formerly "Walking in Stations", formerly "Ambulation").

However, Torfi Frans Ólafsson, Senior Producer, offered one trailer that seemed to hint at a more achievement-oriented side of the Incarna project that will peel pod pilots out of their ships and put them into stations for the first time. Intrigued, we caught up with Torfi for a few questions about Incarna, planet-sized revamps, the massive Titan nerf, and how exactly Treaties will work at EVE FanFest 2009.

Ten Ton Hammer
: First this project was named “Ambulation,” then “Walking in Stations,” now “Incarna.” Aside from a parade of ever better names, has the project been reinvented along with the name, or is the project closer to completion than it was when we saw it demoed at last year’s FanFest?

Torfi Frans Ólafsson, Senior Producer: Oh yea, it’s closer. The core technology group at CCP is hard at work developing the technology that allows us to do incredibly realistically lit rooms and interiors, and they’re also working on our custom rendering and animation technology. This is the technology foundation that’s being used for Incarna. We did a reveal at last FanFest to prove that the technology works and that it works within EVE, but it was of course only presented in demo state - very pre-alpha and focused solely on graphics and feel over functionality. So we’re working on technology and functionality right now.

The game designers have also been sweating out the design for Incarna, and there will be more to do than weÂ’ve previously talked about.

Ten Ton Hammer: So from what we saw in the Incarna trailer, there will be an achievement angle to Incarna?

Ólafsson: Absolutely. To the people that I said that you won’t have to play Incarna to be successful in EVE... not entirely true. (laughter) You can still, you know, not do it, just like you can not do industry or agent missions or not do mining, but it’s going to be an important element of gameplay. As you saw in the teaser, the reason you go into stations is to go “offline” - to go off the grid. You go there to interact with people that may not even exist on the grid. For all intents and purposes, Concord thinks they’re dead.

Ten Ton Hammer: So it sounds like a whole new avenue for the game thatÂ’s outside of CONCORDÂ’s control.

Ólafsson: Exactly.

Ten Ton Hammer: WeÂ’ve seen a lot of good stuff here from the DUST 514 team at CCP Asia. We know that DUST 514 is using Unreal Engine 3, which is a far cry from the Python-based setup that EVE uses, but are you sharing assets or knowledge back and forth between the Incarna and DUST 514 teams?

Ólafsson: Absolutely. We’ve shared assets a little bit, we’ve certainly shared technology and people and, most importantly, we are on big company. The team working on DUST 514 might be a different team, but like I mentioned yesterday, they worked with us on Apocrypha, they’re collaborating on the planets right now, DUST 514 and EVE will be talking together in terms of game mechanics, so a lot of us have spent a lot of time in China working with the team and vice versa.

Ten Ton Hammer:
Do the war barge and social spaces weÂ’ve seen in DUST 514 tie into Incarna at all? Could EVE and DUST players eventually meet each other?

Those are separate spaces. The strategic planning room - thatÂ’s within the war barge - while Incarna will focus solely on stations. The people of DUST 514 are of a different creed than pod pilots. In the backstory, their paths would hardly ever cross except when thereÂ’s profit to be made - when one needs the power of the other.

One of the planets post-Dominion revamp. This one happens to look pretty familiar.
Ten Ton Hammer: Sort of like the navy and the army?

Ólafsson: Yea, or maybe like the CIA and the navy.

Ten Ton Hammer: Shifting gears a bit to talk about December's Dominion expansion: The work youÂ’re doing with the planets is gorgeous - right down to seeing the cloud layer and man-made lights on the dark side of colonized planets. Can you tell us a little bit about the process and the work that went into these procedurally generated planets? IÂ’m guessing you used satellite photography extensively?

Ólafsson: Of course we were all inspired by NASA’s imagery and Hubble pictures and Galileo pictures. In recent years we’ve had really cool pictures coming from Saturn via Magellan. We were inspired by them, but sometimes we’ve realized that realism is a bit boring and we take it further. We’ve only seen a very limited number of planets and moons [in the real universe], and making cool planets and moons is what I call “geology porn.” It’s basically geology, just making it more aesthetically beautiful so that you enjoy it.

Ten Ton Hammer: What kind of inputs go into the procedurally generated planets? Do you calculate the distance from the star, water vapor in the atmosphere, that sort of thing?

Absolutely, we use all the basic inputs: the distance from the star, the density of the planet, adjoining moons, type of star, and so on. All of these inputs go into figuring out what the planet will look like.

Ten Ton Hammer: Dominion will also bring some pretty big changes to the Titan, EVEÂ’s most powerful ship by far. ItÂ’s rare for developers and players to agree that a ship is ridiculously overpowered, but that a Titan breaks the game seems to have been the consensus for a while now. Why did it take so long to roll back the Titan to a more targeted attack, do you think?

Everything is just done in order, I guess. Some things just take less time than others. Why did it take so long? Change can be scary - it can take you a while to man up to taking the leap. We realized with the Titan changes and with the Sovereignty changes that although a large portion of the community feels that the system could be improved or that itÂ’s imbalanced, thereÂ’s tons of people using it right now. And we donÂ’t want to be continuously changing these large systems, so we just wanted to do it right.

Ten Ton Hammer:
How do these sorts of changes mess with the lore of the game, given Tony GonzalesÂ’s novel and how the Doomsday weapon fits in there?

Ólafsson: It doesn’t make Tony happy, we’re going to have to buy all his books back and black out a few lines. (laughter) But I’m sure he’ll learn to live with it.

Ten Ton Hammer: Tell us a bit about how another great feature of Dominion, Fleet Finder, works. Is it essentially a looking for group system?

Ólafsson: Exactly. To begin with, you can only publicly advertize fleets within your own corporation, so the griefers are going to have to wait for the next iteration to fool people into their fleets and kill them at random places. Essentially we are taking a mechanic, just trying to take what people are already doing, and make it more accessible and more fun - so it’s easy for you at the moment you log in to see which fleets are going on in your corporation or alliance and join different task forces - somebody’s mining, somebody’s ratting, somebody’s off on a cap fleet - to join them.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will it be possible for players to selectively load their fleets or password-protect fleets just for an elite few?

Ólafsson: Closed fleets, definitely. But we are just iterating on the design of the system. We mostly see ourselves are providers of setting and mechanisms.  ThatÂ’s our job; we create a cool setting, and we have mechanisms for you to use in your gameplay. This is just one of these mechanisms that we want to do well and weÂ’re probably going to improve on it as we move further along. But mechanisms for bringing people together should be the goal of any MMO.

With Dominion, the Doomsday weapon has had its day.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything more you can tell us about Dominion that maybe hasnÂ’t gotten a lot of coverage?

Ólafsson: We talked about the new capture system and upgrade system. The upgrade system actually requires you to live in your space and use it. It will probably - and note the word probably - result in zero-sec being less blobbed out by alliances that claim space and don’t do anything with it, allowing smaller alliances to have a stake in this sort of gameplay.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are you considering any changes that will make it a little less daunting for new players to move into null sec space?

Ólafsson: Moving forward, after Dominion, we’re planning to do a treaty system that will allow a corporation or alliance to create treaties with other corporations or players, giving them rights of passage, mining rights, ratting rights within their own systems, even if they’re not members of the corporation or alliance. You could have a player that plays favorably with two rival corporations or alliances, playing Switzerland and making ISK not war.

Ten Ton Hammer: How will that work? Will players be limited in their ability to shoot players from other treaty corps for fear of sparking a war?

Ólafsson: You can always shoot, but there will be repercussions. That would be part of the contract. We’d never put in a system where you can’t shoot. You can shoot people in Jita; there’s just repercussions.

Ten Ton Hammer: How are these treaties enforced?

Ólafsson: To be defined. We just want you to, for example as a sovereign system in zero-sec, to be able to profit from bringing people into your system- people that may never have gone into zero-sec - having them do work and you taxing them, like a feudal lord.

Ten Ton Hammer:
So itÂ’ll be a little safer for someone that doesnÂ’t have a corporation or alliance to venture into zero-sec.

Ólafsson: Exactly, that’s the idea. The alliances profit in keeping you safe, and would be at a loss for griefing you.

Ten Ton Hammer thanks Torfi Frans Olafsson for taking some time to tell us about Dominion, Post-Dominion, and Incarna at FanFest 2009!
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