Themes and flavour: EVE Online has a rich back drop to it and a unique style amongst MMOs, primarily because it has it’s own ‘IP’. But translating that into something tangible ‘in game’ its not as easy as one might expect. Whilst novels such as ‘The Burning Life’, chronicles and ISD news articles can all help to add to the feeling of immersion within EVE they can only go so far.
It was Casiella’s latest post on Ecliptic Rift that really prompted me to write this particular entry: Casiella’s skill path is being based around a ‘cyberpunk’ theme, with specialisations in electronic warfare, criminal connections, hacking and the like. Oddly Cailais has a number of similar skills which got me thinking if I had wittingly, or unwittingly, developed his character progression along a similar path.
Of course not everyone imbues their characters with a dollop of RP flavouring preferring instead to (using an old RPG term) Min/Max that capsuleer by selecting skills which are the most efficient for a particular task even if they sit at odds with any RP “persona”. I expect the vast majority of players forgo even any pretence at RP and simply max out those specific skills they require.
But that doesn’t mean that immersion is irrelevant – after all would EVE have such a impassioned following if the game mechanics remained but the environment was hello kitty land? Probably not. We are, for the most part, drawn to EVE because it is a dark sci fi MMO in the style of movies such as Bladerunner, or William Gibson’s / Ian M Bank’s novels.
Where immersion falls down is when the background and themes don’t translate into the game itself. A good case in point might be bounty hunting; here is a activity we can readily accept even expect within the EVE universe and yet the game mechanics that should support and enable it are woefully inadequate if not completely broken.
Combat boosters are another example – on entering the dark and corrupt universe of EVE we are delighted to find that not only can we consume narcotics but produce and trade them as well! Fantastic?! Well no. Because we find our expectations muted when we discover their performance is rather lack lustre, they don’t result in addictive cravings for more or bouts of withdrawl symptoms and (if we’re being honest here) they just not all that commonly used.
Can we use hacking to gather information on a pilots location? Determine who’s on the other side of a star gate? Access a station facility normally denied to us? No. We can open some cans, in much the same way we do when we salvage a can, or use archaeology. In this way our immersion is broken, we could as well be using ‘banana picking IV’ to open that can as any ‘Hacking’ skill.
The beauty of EVE is that, having it’s own IP, CCP can introduce and sculpt their own vision of what the level of technology is within that universe and how that technology interfaces with us soft fleshy pod pilots. CCP was resolute in saying that Incarna would not feature ‘in station combat’ or pvp not least because it could detract from creating a believable universe (without having blobs of players running around WOW style). However I would suggest that such ‘in station’ environments offer a plethora of potential game elements in a cyberpunk style.
Perhaps from across a crowded bar you could hack into the mind of a fellow pilot? Review his combat logs? How much ISK does he have? What systems has he travelled recently? Perhaps our victim could equally fight back with the requisite implants?
Can we expect our pod pilots to engage in Mind Clash duals in station? Or seek out boosters that skew their perceptions but allow them to ‘see’ tags sprayed on station walls or glyphs directing them to hidden clubs?
Not all of these ideas or variants of them will of course be applicable or even popular – I present them only to illustrate that even the best back story and lore needs to physically hook into the game via simple mechanics in some form or other in order to be truly relevant. The recent news and implementation of Dev run Events has been very well received by the player base on the whole – and whilst there will always be some detractors I think that’s evidence of how much many player actually do want to immerse themselves more fully into the EVE Online universe.