EVE Evolved: Incarna and the captain's quarters

When we first heard about Incarna, it was as "Walking in Stations" back in 2006. At the 2006 EVE Online Fanfest, details of the ambitious project were released to excited fans, which was followed by a lengthy devblog from CCP t0rfifrans on what would be involved. The sheer scope of Walking in Stations seemed immense, but in-engine screenshots of what came to be known as "Ambulation Man" created a sense that a lot of work had already been done on it. Over the years following that announcement, we saw snippets of information and work-in-progress screenshots from various prototypes. Players saw those prototypes as the current state of the feature in development, and it became reasonable to expect a release in the near future.

Miscommunication

In reality, CCP's insistence on doing the feature right has caused several prototypes to be completely scrapped. Walking in Stations became Ambulation, and we were shown a full work-in-progress demo of a character walking around in a bar and playing a minigame. That prototype was similarly scrapped, being reborn as Incarna at the 2009 Fanfest. In developing each of these prototypes, CCP quickly discovered that the underlying technology to do it the way the team wanted to simply didn't exist.

In this opinion piece, I look at the summer expansion's planned captain's quarters event and what it could mean for EVE Online.

With several years of that groundwork in the form of the Carbon framework behind them, developers have only recently begun producing Incarna as it should be. The perception of Incarna in the media and among the EVE playerbase is that the feature has been in heavy development since 2006 or at least 2008. If that perception has been wrong, it's because CCP has given the wrong impression to the press and to players. By keeping us updated on the progress of Incarna, developers have given the false impression that it's been nearing completion for several years.

Those first few steps

The first stage of Incarna's release was arguably the introduction of the new character creator in the Incursion expansion. This was the first time we've been able to design full-body avatars, complete with all those interesting bits like arms and legs. For CCP's major release this coming summer, we'll finally be able to get out of our pods and stretch those legs. The summer release will replace the current station docking screen with a new captain's quarters interface. Rather than staring at your ship in the hangar, you'll now be able to walk around as your avatar and use objects in that environment.

Computer consoles, holographic screens and other objects in your quarters will give quick access to a few new tools. A new corporate recruitment interface will provide new players with percentage match-making results; a planet management interface will allow players to manage planetary industry without undocking; and a new market ticker will let players track the prices on items they typically trade. Perhaps the most interesting thing being introduced is a news window showing all the player-made news from across EVE. Sovereignty changes, titan kills and anything else of interest will display here to immerse players in the wider world of EVE.

Forced usage

One of the biggest complaints players have had with CCP's plans to roll out captain's quarters is that it goes against the promise that players would not be forced to take part in Incarna. Many current players aren't interested in walking around space stations, and they don't want to be forced to do it.

While the prospect of walking out onto a balcony and seeing your ship in its true scale is very exciting, there were fears that CCP would design the system such that we'd be forced to walk over to our ships to get into them. This would drastically increase the amount of time it takes to perform normal operations like docking to switch ships. Players expressed similar concerns over actions like accessing EVEMail, setting up manufacturing jobs and talking to mission agents.

This is where the CSM stepped in and relayed those concerns to CCP. In the end, CCP promised that no action would take longer after the release of captain's quarters than it did before. Fast-forward to Fanfest, where developers gave a talk on exactly how the captain's quarters will work. All of the current station services and neocom options will still be present, so you can still do everything you normally would at exactly the same speed.

What will the impact of captain's quarters be?

I don't think the captain's quarters will necessarily change the way most current players play the game. It gives us a bit of eye-candy when we dock, and some of the new features like planetary management, the market ticker and the news feed are really good for immersion. What the captain's quarters should do really well is bridge the gap between EVE and other MMOs.

New players will start life inside their captain's quarters, which will introduce them to themselves as avatars rather than as spaceships. This should help get across the idea that ships in EVE are tools we use to get a job done and losing them isn't such a big deal. If it can achieve only this, the captain's quarters will be an incredibly important thing for the growth of EVE.

Ultimately, the first release of the captain's quarters is for new players. It's designed to give players a better start at the game. The trial system will be modified to begin inside the captain's quarters, and the starting missions will send a player out into the universe to complete objectives. The interactable objects in the captain's quarters will introduce a set of new tools aimed specifically at new players. A new corporate recruitment system will provide more meaningful match-making results to help players find a corp that's doing something they want to try out in EVE.

Summary

As CCP Soundwave gracefully expressed during Fanfest, EVE's current new player experience can be summed up by the phrase "Welcome to EVE Online, here's a rubix cube, go *&%$ yourself." If the captain's quarters can introduce new players to EVE gradually, help them get into a good corporation, and reinforce the distinction between characters in EVE and the ships they fly, it could be incredibly good for EVE.

When we're finally let out of our quarters and given the ability to create our own custom rooms in a multiplayer station environment, a horde of new players may try EVE for the first time. It's then that the captain's quarters and its new player experience will be essential, as they will help convert those new players into spaceship-smashing monsters with the rest of us.

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 brendan@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.