Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Return To Eve-Online: Initial Thoughts

As I mentioned in a previous post, this is my first week back in New Eden after a six month hiatus.  I didn't really expect much to have changed, even in the wake of Monoclegate and the other various scandals that rocked the Eve-Online world earlier this summer.

In a very abridged recap, CCP (the producers of Eve-Online) thought it'd be a good idea to introduce a meaningless expansion that offered little to no value to the game in the hopes that the draw of a 'real avatar' instead of 'flying in space' would attract more players.  Ultimately, the release of the Incarna expansion cost them 20% of their work force, and left them on thin ice with current, past, and prospective players.

Monoclegate refers to the addition of a real-money store integrated into Eve-Online's fragile, complex, and entirely player-driven economy.  While the potential to purchase aesthetic items, such as a monocle for your in-game avatar, wouldn't effect the in-game economy directly - it was the promise of real-money trading for things like space ships (that can currently only be purchased by ISK - the in game currency) that drove players to the breaking point.

CCP rectified their actions, and has now promised a refocused effort on the 'flying in space' aspects of Eve.  They delivered on that promise with the recently released 'Crucible' expansion.  But that's not what I'm going to talk about today.  My return to Eve will be spoken about as a whole - regardless of when changes or features were put into effect.

The first thing I want to note is that this is my first time logging into Eve since May of this year.  This was before Incarna went live, so I was graced with experiencing my avatar in the 'captain's quarters' immediately upon my first log in.

"Cool."  I thought to myself - I mean it looked nice enough, but I honestly just didn't care.  Like 100% of the population in Eve, I didn't play the game to try and enter the world of my character (some call it role playing).  I didn't need to physically see a representation of my digital person on the screen.  I tried to give it a shot, though.

I walked around, or at least I tried to.  Clicking, W A S D, you know - the standard for avatar movement on PC games for the past 20 years - those didn't seem to work too well.  I eventually scoured around to the docking bay, where I got a nice side-view of my Gila.  That was the only moment where I paused and thought about what I was doing - not because of the visuals, but because it added perspective.  I was a 6-foot human looking at a ship that had the mass of the Empire State Building, from about the distance from which we would view our airplane from before boarding through a gate at the airport.  While moment-inducing, that's really a one-time deal - most Eve players have seen the pictures of Eve Ships in comparison to some cities for instance, the Erebus, the Gallente Titan, would cast a shadow over all of New York City.

Eventually I got fed up with the tutorial-less Incarna experience and within 5 minutes ended up asking members of my corporation how to disable Incarna.  Nearly every one of them online at the time answered me within a minute - all 40 of them.  I've tried to enable and toy around with the captain's quarters since - but honestly, my final opinion is harsh; as someone who deeply enjoys and appreciates what developers have to go through in order to produce quality solutions, the Incarna expansion is really just a waste.  A failed gimmick, at best.  I'd love to see some numbers behind the active accounts that have it enabled/disabled.

The next thing I noticed is that once again I'm left to re-organize the entire user interface (UI) manually.  This happens all the time in Eve, most veteran players are used to it.  It's infuriating that they haven't found a fix for this yet.  They also removed the ability to 'pin' windows to places so they couldn't accidentally get dragged around the screen while you meant to do something else.  I heard rumors they did this because nobody used the feature.  I find that hard to believe.

Next on my shit list is the wonderful changes to the 'jump' button.  You see, you're given a few different console buttons to control your ship, things like approach, orbit, warp to, jump, and the like.  You have to be within 2500 meters (m) of a gate in order to jump through it - or at least that's the way it was.  Now, if you're >250m away from a gate, and you click the jump button, your ship will align itself and warp you directly to the gate - and then immediately jump you through it.  This is problematic.

Before I get off on a rant here, the warp and jump buttons are right next to each other, and there is no way to move them.  If I'm not paying attention, or tired and getting sloppy, I could accidentally click jump instead of warp - both land me on the gate, but jump takes me through the gate immediately.  I might not remember which one I clicked.  If I catch this in time, I can press control+spacebar and stop my ship.  If I don't catch it, I can jump right through the gate into 50+ people waiting to blow me up on the other side.  Or jump into another system on accident and scare away a few potential targets.  The list of why this change could be bad goes on and on.  But perhaps my biggest problem is how much it babies people.  Come out of warp, land on the gate, click jump when you get in range.  Having it all in one button is kind of ridiculous and dumbs down the process of learning the game mechanics a bit too much for me.

Now that we're past that - lets talk about the starmap for a moment, where you can see every system in known space.  Instead of it coming up nearly instantly, a useful tool for fleet commanders, or anyone just looking for some directions - it now takes nearly 25 seconds to load, all of which you're completely floating in space and helpless for.  Sure, there's 'tricks' like disabling options on the map that alleviate the map load time.  I don't care - the map was 100% fine the way it was - they broke something for little to no reason, and now we're left worse off then we were with the previous version of the starmap.
Note:  You can disable the feature 'Show Alliance Jump Bridge Routes'  in your starmap on the 'lines' tab, to dramatically decrease the load time of the map, to about ~5 seconds.

So after all that, there is actually something positive I'm about to say about my experience thus far - the art work that they've added to every system in the game is gorgeous.  Even more so when you find out that the nebulae you see in every system is actually a different region on the map.  For instance, the Cloud Ring region looks like a green circle in the far distance of space when you're in a neighboring region, however once you're actually in Cloud Ring, the green circle appears all around you.  Not only is this exceptionally cool, but its actually something that's made me stop and say 'wow, I wouldn't have thought of that, way to go CCP.'  This addition alone is worth checking out the game for, even if you just hop in a ship and fly around to different regions of space.

So for now, I'll leave you with those - my initial thoughts since my return.  Expect more to come as I continue to re-immerse myself in New Eden.  Hopefully by next time I'll have some combat to report on, as there's been quite a number of changes in that arena since I last played.