As players, we don't really see that full development process. That doesn't stop us from painting our perfect vision of an upcoming or potential feature and how awesome it could be. In the coming years, the EVE Online developers will be going through the process of making some of their most incredible visions a reality. Ideas like walking in stations and integrating the upcoming MMOFPS Dust 514 with EVE's planetary interaction feature will be put through a potentially brutal development process. We can only hope that as little as possible of those visions we've heard from EVE's developers gets lost in translation.
In this speculative opinion piece, I look at a few areas in which EVE is sure to be expanded in the coming years and discuss what I'd consider to be the ideal way they could be implemented or handled.
Walking in stations
The ability to walk around in the stations of EVE will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the way we play the game. While many current EVE players don't see the benefit Incarna will have for them, it's sure to change the way we interact with each other in a very fundamental way. When we can set up shops and otherwise customise environments within stations, player-owned outposts will become a much more personal space for alliances. I can imagine a time when I jump into a ship to defend a station that's more than just a place to dock. It might be that when Incarna is released, those stations we fight over will become our homes in a very personal way.
We've heard a lot about the features that might be in Incarna, including minigames and meeting rooms. Players currently do a lot of socialising and playing other games with their EVE friends. The EOH Poker service is a great example of this, through which players bet ISK on hands of poker. With Incarna, I can imagine players meeting up in a particular station to bet on minigames, with some using a holographic stand-in of themselves from their own particular corner of the game. Simply giving the players a way to interact through their avatars while playing the game will make a big difference to the immersive factor of playing games like poker in EVE. The same goes for any in-game social gathering or corporation meeting. These are things that EVE currently has which I'd love to see notably improved by Incarna.
Graphical UI elements
One thing that's almost certain to have at least some work done on it over the next few years is the user interface. The CSM has consistently pushed for development time to be given to the EVE UI, an idea that has a lot of public backing. One of the problems faced when considering how to improve EVE's user interface is that there's a tremendous amount of information it needs to convey to players. Although EVE is ofteusen called "Spreadsheets in Space" due to its table-based interfaces, tables are probably the only way to reliably display that much information.
Something that really excites me is the graphic style of the UI used in some EVE trailers and fan-made videos. Examples of this style can be seen CCP's official trailer "The Butterfly Effect" and fan-made film "Future Proof" by Kale Ryoko. In both videos, holographic contextual elements emerge from ships to display information on them and highlight useful stats. This might make a good replacement for the current ship-scanner module and it could be a good ability for a fleet's scouts to have. Similarly, a visual warning of incoming ships in warp and a graphical deep-space scanner overlay on the main screen could both be fantastic replacements for the current clunky directional scanner. In general, I'd love to see more information being encoded in pretty graphical elements and less in dull text boxes.
Building on those foundations
For the past few expansions, CCP has assured players that new game mechanics like planetary interaction and sovereignty have been laying the foundations for future expansion. The Dominion expansion's updated sovereignty and system upgrade mechanics were sold to us as an expandable new framework that could be built upon much more easily than the old starbase mechanic. For example, new resources like comets or gas fields can be implemented very quickly under the new mechanic by tying them to a new system upgrade.
Similarly, Apocrypha's wormholes brought us a whole series of new star systems, exploration sites and the resources for tech 3 production. It seemed as though developers had future iterative expansion of wormhole space in mind, as they told us that new sites and resources could be easily added to wormhole systems for future expansions. Even the Tyrannis expansion's planetary interaction feature was referred to as a foundation on which more work would be done. It's now up to CCP to deliver on those promises over the coming years. It's no good making expandable frameworks for future development if they're never expanded on
Iterating on old features
The developers at CCP have come under fire recently for their tendency to mark new features as complete and not iterate on them. Despite design flaws quickly making themselves known in faction warfare, for example, the mechanics remained completely unchanged for a full year after the system's release. With the Tyrannis expansion's release, CCP announced that a team would be dedicated to continuing development on planetary interaction. This team will also be working on linking planetary interaction with Dust 514, so it's not certain how much the feature's mechanics will change.
In a similar vein, it seems new content is rarely added in between expansions. Even the remarkably popular Apocrypha expansion, now more than a year old, has had no new content or changes to keep it fresh for current players. Until CCP goes back to iterate on the wormhole system mechanics, it's likely that no new content will be added in that area. I'd love to see more teams assigned to work on gameplay iterations and regular content updates. One month we might get some new missions to try out, and the next a few new wormhole sites or exploration complexes may be thrown into the mix.
Regular content updates are something that other MMOs have done with remarkable success. They have a way of keeping players interested between expansions, which is a problem I've seen first hand. As much as I love the wormhole sites and game mechanics, the lack of new PvE challenges to overcome has caused dwindling activity within my corporation. A new challenge to hunt down and tackle every few weeks could be incredible for keeping people actively playing.
The future of EVE is perhaps more uncertain today than it has ever been. Incarna has the potential to add some incredible new immersive experiences to EVE. Like all expansions, however, its announced features may not make it through the development process entirely intact. Through the last few expansions, CCP has laid the groundwork for some potentially impressive iteration on features and rapid addition of new content. So far, however, we haven't seen any of the expected content or further work on features. As I look back at all the long-term development goals CCP has discussed at the EVE fanfest and in interviews, I can only hope we don't lose what makes these visions great in that gap between idea and implementation.
Special thanks to Massively reader "gelidelf" for suggesting the topic of this week's article.
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.