Saturday, August 13, 2011
Aaaaand . . . . this is Eve!
So, I know, right? ANOTHER blog about Eve Online. I'm thinking this is pretty much what the universe (both real and virtual) needs at this specific point in time. Orrrrr . . not. At any rate, it will be a place for me to track my exploits, plans and ideas. I don't think there will be any ground breaking insights, but it will maybe help me keep things sorted out between my ears. Why pointy sticks? Well, because back in my grunt days, a good friend and mentor used to caution us all on how being sloppy could make us just as vulnerable to people jumping out of trees with pointy sticks as we were to things like tanks and guns. Nothing beats the human factor for unpredictability, and I think that fits Eve too.
I've been playing computer games since back when MUDs and MOOs were around, and the intarpipes were not even the intarpipes yet, at least as far as available consumption for the unclean masses of the general population were concerned. The only type of "online" multi-player games that we played were BBS turn count games we accessed by dialing into them with our trusty old 1200 baud USRs after navigating all the connection protocols and initialization strings. As Free Net, and then more available PPP connections came available, we tracked down more gaming opportunities, and more text based formats like MUDs and MOOs. Still no pretty graphics, at least in online venues, but we could still do our LAN parties and hook up with Doom or ROTT using NETBUI or IPX. Ahh, the good times we had navigating spaghetti messes of LAN and power cables . . .
As online games started to progress from Ultima Online, through EQ, Anarchy Online, AC, AC2 (cough . . go engineers), I found I enjoyed the size of the games and the different graphics and play styles that were different than the RTS games I liked, like Civilization, AoE, and many others I couldn't even remember. As the MMO games became more and more popular and prevalent, cycling through their betas and releases came more and more often. Different styles, different times, but in the end, very much the same kind of grindage. I ran across Eve not too long after it first came out, but it was pretty raw and dangerous for new toons, and I wasn't ready for it. I don't mind PVP. I engage in PVP in every game I play where it is available, but Eve seemed completely lawless, so I went back to the AC/DAOC style that I was playing at the time.
Fast forward almost a decade, and passing through WOW, WHO, back and forth to LOTRO, with a little RIFTS and a revisit to AC (yeah, it's STILL running and the graphics? OMG!) and then a crack at Fallen Earth, and while they are cool (again) for a while because they are a little different, they are all much the same with just a different wall paper dropped on them. Along with some family members and friends, we've all trekked through these games together and drifted in and out, sometimes together, sometimes individually. A friend and I moved in through WOW,
LOTRO, WHO, and then Fallen Earth. There was something uninspiring about it to me, so I slowly lost interest, and my friend played a little longer, then quit too. He started playing Eve in august '10, and I started shortly after, but after the trial 14 days, I lost interest, he continued. Around Xmas, after listening to him regale us with his PVP stories, I reactivated the account and started running missions again. I was pleasantly surprised to remember how to do it, and then slowly started reacquainting myself with the game and controls again, and have been playing steady since. Being low level, and not wanting to be inundated by the information I had access to, I stuck to simple play, but after joining my friend's corp, it was pretty much non-stop war decs for 2 months or more. With the corp being mainly carebears, and with many new players, the corp was forced into slowly learning to PVP and in the end, we developed some fairly decent teeth in our little care-bear mouths :) Great fun, and with the non-stop PVP, it felt rather hollow, and plain when all the PVP stopped, but I had to do some missioning and build up some cash, and get some stable time to make a plan.
More on that later, but I wanted to comment on that clever little picture that shows the learning curve of Eve. It's all steep and shit, and there are rocks, and sticks and dead bodies showing how "steep" the learning curve is. That all fine and metaphorical and junk, and it's a cool picture, but it's completely ass backwards. "Steep" infers you need to learn a lot about Eve to play it. You don't. The tutorials are straight forward and show a beginning player everything they need to know to start playing. "Steep" also infers that you need to learn fast, which, again, you don't. As your "toon" learns it's skills, that's as fast as you can "curve" it. That's as fast as you NEED to "curve" it. "Steep", at least as represented by the funky picture, also implies that you learn hard and fast, and then reach a plateau. Couldn't be farther from the truth, at least until a player has maybe a couple years in the game. Due to the design of the game, the players have a shit pile of options, but 99% of them don't apply to a new player. Most people come to Eve from another MMO and most of the other MMOs are all cookie cutter. This is how you build your toon, this is the ONLY armour you can buy (pick 1 of 2), this is the ONLY weapon you can buy (pick 1 of 2), oh, and here's a cape . . . What freaks people out is that everything that can be bought, can be bought by everyone. The choice, and the options are staggering, but if you look at the colours, things get much more simple. Red - can't use it. Green, you can use it. Can't use it? Prerequisites will tell you what you can learn.
Eve is the "thinking player's" game that some of the other good, old MMOs were similar to, before the games started getting dumbed down to catch the interest of all the console kiddies that had their parent's give them games, computers and the Internet to babysit and pacify them while they were either going to work, at work, coming home from work, or too tired after work to deal with. Console kiddies and the resultant generation know little to nothing about "worth" or "earning" something, or "waiting" (gasp!) til you have enough money to buy something. The mental hook to grab these "players" and hopefully hold on to them to make a few bucks for at least a few months, is to implement easy sauce mode. Where some of the older min-maxxers would power level, now the whole new game mentality is for the game to power level new players to quickly and easily catch up to older players. This means that new players have no sense of accomplishment for an item they go to a shop and buy, instead of grinding some mind-numbing task for months to earn the credits/tokens/currency to buy the formerly "special/uber" item. I couldn't count the number of times I've experienced, heard or seen the same sad story. The game is dumbed down, easy sauce is liberally spread around after a patch/update, the new players get high end content for next to no work which produces no sense of accomplishment, and the older players who did "earn" the content feel feel ripped off and lost another sense of accomplishment.
Don't get me wrong, it's just a game and people (some people) sorely need to remember/understand this, but all games are some form of time-waster for most of the players but even time-wasters are more enjoyable when milestones or goals are set and hit with the surety of a bowling ball in a gutter. Unfortunately though, the dumbing-down process is the eventual evolution of seemingly every game, Eve included.
So back to my original premise, it isn't about the "curve", there's just no easy sauce mode in Eve (at least relative to my experience with it). The player has to make a choice. There is no "choice of 1". That puts people off because in Eve, unlike other MMOs, you can't screw up your toon, but as a new player, you don't understand that. Other MMOs make you pick a type or class, and then head in that direction. Screw up the character build, and you might gimp it pretty bad, and that is no fun for a now-now-now mentality, or a min-max player. That kind of character building mind set comes into Eve with the new player, but it is a non-issue. You might end up wasting some training time on a character in a direction you didn't intend to go in Eve, but that doesn't gimp it, you just head in another direction. Later on, you'll likely need or want or use that skill again anyway. Most of the other MMOs DO have a steep learning curve, but it's a simple learning curve. You're led through the quests, shown where they are, given the next equipment you need, move to the next higher area, rinse, repeat. The skills to use your character are fast and easy to learn. Even in PVP, most games require the continuous mashing of one or 2 buttons, and that's about it. In very short order, you have the skills you need to excel at any MMO, and you DO "plateau" in them, until you hit near-end game, or end game content. Every once in a while you need to learn a new dungeon, or special instance, but it's not too far from platforming, just with prettier pictures. That can still theoretically involve only a handful of months of play. In Eve, there is no power levelling. If you want to get the uber ships and bad-ass gear, you have to put int the time to train it. There is no abrupt "curve", if anything, Eve teaches, nay I say, FORCES patience. There is no rush or pressure to learn something that I won't be able to use for days, weeks or months. It isn't about learning curve, it's about being in an actual sand box. People don't know what to do in a sand box. I know what a sand box is. We always had a sand box. I spent half my youth in a sand box either inadvertently eating sand, or intentionally eating sand as my sisters tried to bury my head, me or both. We had sandboxes, but now, "they" have consoles and computers. The only creation process involves trying to make they avatar look like Keanu Reeves or Britney Spears. "They" come from games where it's all decided for them and their ability to screw something up isn't critical, there is no real penalty for screwing up, and most games allow you to easily "fix" your toon with a simple re-spec. Eve, it just takes more time to get back on path. Nothing but time. Always time . . .
Eve is definitely not a game that just about anyone would enjoy. It takes a certain mindset and people to understand what a sand box style game can offer, yeah, even though someone in that sand box might only be occupying a very small patch of sand in a corner somewhere. When people talk about the "learning curve" (cue dramatic music) I think it is a kind of elitism. It's a looking-down-the-nose kind of comment aimed to impress and invoke much awe and respect in the Eve-uninformed. Whether intentional or not, Eve has a kind of mystique amongst MMOs, which is why I stayed away as long as I did, as something that is huge and overpowering and full of crazy bastards looking to turn you into space dust as soon as you get your new shiny out of the paint shop. Not so. Not so at all. It's not so bad, and definitely not as bad as people think it is. People who lack the free thinking, or imagination, or who fear the ongoing process of deciding from day to day, "What do I want to do today" The same thing/same direction as yesterday, or something new??", those are the people who will find Eve overpowering, but it isn't a "learning curve" that is so fearsome, oh no no, my young pad-oooo-waaan, it's choice . . .