Thursday, February 5, 2015

Blog Banter #62 - Rebel Without a Cause

I'll summarize the question for Blog Banter #62 thusly:  "What is and/or should be the future for walking in stations?"

Ahh, Incarna.  Walking in Stations.  The feature without a purpose.  The rebel without a cause.  The game's single most infamous feature, never finished and left to rot in full view of everyone.  Sigh.

Incarna, if it had been done as part of the game's original development, could have been cool.  Case in point:  Earth and Beyond had WiS back in the dark days of 2002.  And it didn't suck.  You docked.  You walked over to the job terminal, or you walked to the npc vendor.  Maybe you stopped to /disco with your friends.  If you were in a hurry or doing repetitive tasks (trade runs) it was perhaps grindy, but so are a dozen things in MMOs.  It was part of the game, one of the fundamental truths of the game, and (imho) the tedious-ness was outweighed by the aspects of social interaction, attachment to an avatar, and checking out the nuances of each station layout.

The desire to develop Incarna came from a noble place.  New players especially have complained for years that it's easier to identify with a human avatar rather than your ship.  New player retention has always been a problem, putting systems in place to aid player retention isn't an evil thing, especially if it adds fun things for bittervets too.

Trouble is:  Incarna's implementation affects so many other little aspects of the game that adding it retroactively was asking for trouble.  It's one of those foundational features that you use to build other features upon.  It's sort of like putting mayonnaise on the outside of your sandwich.  Mayo is perhaps a great addition while building the sandwich, but messy and superfluous (hey look, a big word) as an add-on.

At some point, CCP realized that although they'd very much like to replace the cold/mechanical menu selections of the docking bay with the ability to walk up to an NPC or console, players would balk at the increased walking time.  "But I can just click today and get the information I need; don't make me walk across the station to do the same task."  

And the players were right.  Incarna was a feature looking for a purpose.  Without that cool/novel selling point, it was just fluff.  And CCP did no favors to anyone with their gfx engine and overall poor performance (only now 3 1/2 years later in 2015 do I own a machine that can run the CQ at reasonable gfx settings).

But what to do about it today?

Realistically, I expect it to rot in place, like a dozen other features.  The original problem - lack of a true purpose - is still as true today as it was in 2011.  Here's the bottom line: If I had to choose between Incarna advancement and a half dozen other features/improvements, I'm probably going to pick the spaceship-related things.  Ask me again in a year, and I'm going to vote to defer Incarna again.  And again.

But part of me wants CCP to do a little iteration here.  Little things. Improve upon the movement & camera controls.  Add some configuration options for the TV screen (let me choose what's on TV).  Optimize the graphics engine some more.  Let us invite others into our Captain's Quarters.  Add common areas (bars, Corp/Alliance meeting rooms and HQs).  Put Incarna into POS and other structures (leave ship and walk around knee deep in moon goo? hah).  And eventually, let us open the door and explore the rest of the station.

Nibble on it, see if you can get some momentum, and then see if there are other features that mesh well enough with it to give it a purpose.

(Oh, and btw, hopefully the folks that knew anything about the Incarna engine didn't work in Atlanta on WoD).

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