Back when I was in my teens, some of my favorite games were space combat games such as the Wing Commander series. Of that series I was particularly fond of Privateer, a game set in the Wing Commander universe, but instead of playing a military pilot you are cast in the roll of a space vagabond, going from system to system looking for work as a cargo hauler, a bounty hunter, or a pirate, or whatever else pays the bills. What I
loved about the game was that you could fly around to any system that you pleased. The universe was as open as the gameplay. It was fun. But I’ve always said that the mark of a truly great game is to be able to play a game, and love it, and yet still be able to sit there and come up with a hundred ways to make this game better. When I was playing Privateer I would be in the middle of a particularly hairy dogfight and wish I had some friends on my wing. Or I’d blast a pirate to space dust without breaking a sweat, and wish that there was a real person behind the controls, not just the predictable AI. The point is, back then my ideal of the perfect game was a space fighter game with a big open universe, where I could play in the style of my choosing, and I could play cooperatively or competitively with real people. Some years later, CCP gave us all of that and more when they created EVE.
Like I said earlier, the best games are the ones that you love, but you can still think of a hundred ways to make the game better. One of the other things that I always wanted to be able to do in Privateer was walk around on space stations, which is exactly what CCP intends to allow EVE players to do some time next year. At this year’s EVE Fanfest, Senior Technical Producer Torfi Olafsson gave a presentation on the Ambulation project, also known as “walking around in EVE”.
Whenever ambulation comes up, there are generally two reactions among EVE fans. People either say “that’s awesome” or “who cares, why would you want that?” Luckily, Torfi was on hand to explain why ambulation is cool. First off, your character is not a ship, you’re a human. Some people just can’t relate to a ship, and these people who would have otherwise been good players may have been turned off by EVE. CCP’s hope with ambulation is not just to add a cool feature to the game, but to widen the game’s audience. After all, EVE is a social game, the more the merrier. Or as Torfi put it, “Why hang out mining when you could be hanging out having a beer.” EVE’s roots aren’t just in the Wing Commanders and space flight sims of the past, but also in role-playing games, and ambulation is just anther conduit to new role-playing options.
So you find yourself standing on a space station, what are you going to do? Are you going to stand around doing a silly dance all day or are you going to have some fun? “Well, what is there to do?” you ask. I’m glad you asked. At first, not a lot. There will be player run shops where players can create, buy, and sell clothing and items. There will be bars to hang out in, and corporate offices to meet and plot and scheme in, but more on that later. Torfi explained that EVE grew with the community, the devs patched holes and created new material to keep up with the player base. Much like the way the alliance system came into existence, where players were making there own alliances out of game, so CCP added in-game tools to support alliances; ambulation will provide the basic building blocks and community actions will influence what comes next.
That’s not to say that ambulation won’t come fully loaded with some interesting building blocks. The devs asked themselves, what would a person look like if they spent their whole life in a pod? Would you be a bit heavy from sitting on your butt all day, or would you be thin from not eating properly because you have a tube up your nose. That’s something players can decide for themselves when they buy food on a station. If you eat more, you weigh more. Don’t like your ugly mug? Buy a new one at the player run plastic surgeon. Or maybe you don’t need surgery, maybe you just need to smile more. The basic emotes will all be there, but as Torfi said, “Smiley is not a deep emotion.” That’s why you can set your character’s basic emotional state, which will influence how your avatar expresses other emotes. If you’re a Minmatar in a bad mood and you walk past an Amarr slaver, your frown will be all the deeper.
One potential downside of ambulation is that players will have to recreate their avatars. Still, considering the wealth of options and details that will be available, many will consider this an upside. Characters start with a basic head for their bloodline, and go from there. They use a skeleton system to give players more options with customization. There’s one skeleton used for character creation (the sculpt skeleton), and when you’re done, this translates to the animation skeleton. In the sculpt skeleton the avatar’s skull has 65 different “bones” in its face, which can all be altered until you get your look just right. Once you’ve got your bone structure worked out, you can move on to the surface details, adding things like wrinkles and freckles. But there isn’t just one template for each of these details. In other MMOs, if you want to have wrinkles, you’re stuck with a limited number of skins to put on your face. In ambulation, you choose where the wrinkles go, and with what intensity. You can put a few light wrinkles around the eyes, and then turn the rest of your face into a prune if you like.
Of course if you’re picturing a literal prune for a face, you’re in for a disappointment, this isn’t going to be Second Life. CCP’s goal with ambulation is to aim for a more realistic look, with a style that fit is the EVE universe. Characters will look like people, and they’ll be able to dress in fashions drawn from the various races and cultures within the game. And the clothing looks great. CCP says they’re aiming for high detail, right down to the stitching, but there is a drawback. Because of the high detail, players will only be able to mix and match tops and bottoms, so there’ll be no special boots and gloves. At the character customization presentation, we were told that the reason for this is that too many splits would mean that they would have had to go with a less detail and a more cartoony look. Still, with the level of customization available, more clothing options are really unnecessary, and it is very unlikely that a character will meet their doppelganger.
Unlike the avatars, which players will have to remake themselves, corporate leaders will not have to buy new office space. Corporate offices will be upgraded to the new ambulation offices. The new offices come in a variety of looks and sizes, but share a number of features. There can be private and public areas in the office, with an NPC receptionist that can be programmed to give a recruitment message, or a generic greeting. The receptionist can also be programmed to give specific messages or items to specific individuals, but the standout feature of corporate offices is the tactical map, where corporate high-ups can observe and direct a battle in progress by giving orders and setting waypoints. Of course there need not be a battle going on for leaders to make plans for victory. The tactical map can be used even without a fleet deployed. Torfi said to think of it like a battle plan whiteboard.
Corporations won’t be the only ones to have their own private places. Players will get their very own captain’s quarters, which is like a home that you attach and detach from your ship. This is where your character keeps their stuff. The neat thing about this is that if you wade into battle with your captain’s quarters still attached, and you get blown up, so does your stuff… so be careful.
As mentioned earlier, players will be running their own shops and there will be a focus on player owned stations. Ambulation will start off empty and it will be left to the players to fill out the universe. The artists, architects, and level designers at CCP have designed the stations with an open concept, so expect to see a few grand open spaces, although life support limitations have set a maximum number of 60 people per room.
At the end of his presentation, Torfi Olafsson took a few questions from the audience, and one thing that was on the minds of many players was whether or not there would be combat on the stations. CCP is considering combat, but there are a few game design issues. It seems odd that an immortal pod pilot who commands a fleet of battleships, and has their mind downloaded into a clone when their pod is breeched could be killed by some guy who stabs him in the eye with a teaspoon in the cafeteria of a space station. Also, EVE is not an FPS. They say that there will eventually be some form of combat, but it’s too soon to say what form it will take. So what do you do in a bar if you can’t get into a brawl with your enemies? The answer is twofold. First, there will be gambling mini-games. Second, intoxication is in the design documents.
So really, I lied at the beginning of this article when I said there wouldn’t be a lot to do at the start. CCP is looking to roll out all of ambulation’s features slowly, planning for the long term and letting player interest drive the pace, keeping with CCP’s stated philosophies. As a final note, I just wanted to mention that “The Ambulation Project” is just a working title for this game feature, so you may hear it called something else in the future. Ambulation is after all just a fancy word for walking, and the project has gone well beyond that basic function.
Consider yourselves ambulated.