Team Avatar’s Tinkerings

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss the quietly ongoing development of WiS/Incarna.

I accidentally stumbled across this thread today,  then spent quite awhile skimming through it in between watching the alliance tournament matches.  In this thread, CCP’s Team Avatar have been quite extensively engaging with the community.  Which has produced some interesting little things about the current state of Incarna/WiS.

We already knew that in the post-Incarna reshuffle, CCP reallocated just about everyone working on Incarna over to EVE’s core internet spaceships.  Expect for a small team of about five Dev’s.  Which going off that thread is CCP Bayesian, CCP Karkur, CCP Solomon and CCP t0rfifrans (the creative director).  They form Team Avatar which is tasked on taking WiS back to basics and developing prototype gameplay that delivers meaningful gameplay content, rather than the previous ‘social’ design that had apparently lost all sense of direction and purpose.

The direction that has been emerging since then is exploration based.  Back at fanfest 2011, a few months before the Incarna release, CCP t0rfifrans talked about a vision for Incarna where walking in stations would be only the first type of environment.  Later we would be able to go explore the interiors of Sleeper stations inside wormholes and so on.  Then Incarna actually happened, the ‘Summer of Rage’, so CCP dropped everything and went back to internet spaceships leaving Team Avatar to do the prototype thing well away from the players.

The next ‘development’ in the story comes with the opening scenes of the Fanfest 2012 Trailer.  Where we see people exploring the interior of a Sleeper station.  This is the gameplay direction that Team Avatar’s prototyping work has been heading in.

CCP Bayesian wrote:

It’s great to see everyone debating how these sites would fit into EVE. I’d like to take a moment to reiterate that our focus was on the minute-by-minute gameplay rather than looking at the idea holistically. We wanted to make sure there was some fun gameplay to come out of the concept before we started deep diving in how it might be integrated into EVE proper, which is a question worthy of serious consideration.

Lots of people are off making assumptions about how the gameplay would fit into EVE as if it were decided and implementation was already in progress! We’ve definitely talked about this subject within Team Avatar and with others in the company in much the same fashion you guys are here but there is nothing set in stone. There are a lot of ways this could work that complement what exists already.

The dev blog is about the prototyping so there isn’t really any discussion of social spaces in it at all. As far as I’m concerned they are a no brainer for inclusion, particularly as the tools and technology that would be developed to create gameplay get you 90% of the way towards creating a social space. As with the more active gameplay this is stuff we should be getting into the hands of the players early when we actually get greenlit.

CCP have decided that it makes more sense to approach WiS from the other direction.  t0rfifrans’ presentation of the exploration concept was the most compelling vision for WiS that I had ever heard given since CCP first announced the WiS project at Fanfest 2006 (along with World of Darkness).  The social interaction thing was always a vague and fuzzy concept at the best of times.

Producing a feature that allows players to go do something that will feed directly back into the core EVE game makes so much more sense.  And I entirely agree with CCP Bayesian’s assertion that delivering it will allow for a much faster and more functional development of social environments afterwards.

In that rather long thread, t0rfifrans posted a link to something I hadn’t seen before.  A video of Team Avatar’s actual prototyping work!   I am actually quite encouraged by what they show here.  The prototyping is being done in an extremely minimalist way using untextured block models.  There is the absolute minimum of investment with no real art asset bottlenecks to worry about.  If the idea doiesn;t hold up, they can just bin it and swiftly move on.  The relevant part starts around 7.30:

WiS Exploration prototyping (EVE Moscow 2012)

That’s pretty basic, right?  But can CCP develop enough variety in environments to keep this sort of exploration fresh and varied?  Well..

CCP Bayesian wrote:

Raneru wrote:

I can’t wait to see alien/prometheus style exploration of unknown structures in eve! Big smileHave you guys considered randomizing/procedurally generating the maps for certain environments? That would help keep the exploration fresh instead of it being like static mission layouts.

We have indeed, our ideas include making some of these structures big enough that it wouldn’t really be possible to make them by hand. It’s something we still need to investigate in detail though.

It would be very impressive indeed if CCP managed to create procedurally generated environments to explore.  But it is a big ‘if’, technologically and aesthetically.  EVE trades on its visuals, aesthetically poor/illogically laid out environments would not be something that CCP will settle for lightly.  EVE has standards when it comes to the visuals!

Something that is repeatedly hammered home in that thread by CCP is just how early in the development cycle all this is.  There is a post from CCP Bayesian stating that if their current design got the green light tomorrow he would not expect anything at all to reach tranquility for at least 12 months.  Expectations management FTW.

I also came across this post from that thread about the new NeX store pricing, which is interesting to see:

CCP t0rfifrans:

But seriously, yes, we felt that this kind of pricing made much more sense, and we see it in how the items are selling now, that once the price was brought down and we added interesting designs, people are buying them. We’d like to put out more distinctive stuff, like the full body rubber female suits seen on Singularity, and a full body female leather strap catsuit, both which are important work attire for any serious capsuleer. If the clothes we’re putting out now at lower prices sell well, we are very likely to kick off the manufacturing pipeline again, where we were planning to do more exotic ( cyberpunk, pirate etc ) clothes, than the more plain business and military clothes we have now.

That is going to divide the player base a bit.  There are, I think, a great many players who are happy to see more avatar customisation options.  Many are willing to use the NeX store either with a credit card or, probably more likely, through buying PLEX with ISK and using that to buy items.  But there also players who see any return towards Incarna and ‘space barbie’ as anathema.   CCP are clearly being careful with how they present Team Incarna’s work to the players.

Some people think that Incarna is now a dead end; a failed project that should be entirely abandoned.  I think that doing so would be a mistake and if CCP were to take that attitude then they would be turning away from innovation.  Managed correctly, Incarna can still contribute greatly to the EVE experience.  Games that stop evolving and trying to do new things are games that ultimately grow stale and die out.

Team Avatar have a dev blog pending final approval that could be released literally any day now.  Or postponed a few more months.  It may even include a ten minute video of an internal play test presentation made internally to the whole of CCP.  I am for one am very much looking forward to what is in it.

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2 Responses to Team Avatar’s Tinkerings

  1. Pingback: Jester’s Trek: The Emperor’s New Clothes

  2. Pingback: Team Avatar has tinkered.. | uglebsjournal

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