Ambulation Revealed

The Age of Conan client is now installed; I think it will patch once more, possibly today, and then it’ll be ready to go. I intend to spend almost the entire day Saturday playing. Well, with some breaks – I also intend to be actively skill training (and by ‘actively,’ I mean switching skills out over the course of the day to get a number of annoying 2-4 hour skills finished) in EVE and I plan to break away from AoC in the afternoon to participate in the mining op.

Last night I spent about two hours in EVE, running a couple of missions, upgrading my clone (which was overdue,) and refitting my Merlin from scratch – I’d pretty much stripped it to build out the Destroyer. I am fairly happy with the build at this point, although the cargo hold is uncomfortably tiny (due to an Overdrive Injector – not that it was all that big to start with,) and I couldn’t fit railguns as big as I wanted due to a lack of Powergrid (curse you, Engineering 2!) At least all the fittings were cheap – some of my guns cost hundreds of ISK!

I am aware that I need to have Engineering, Electronics and Mechanics all at 5 in pretty short order, and none of them are higher than 2 right now – fixing that will be a big part of the effort on Saturday. Right now I have a lot of skills in a range where they’ll take longer than a sitting to finish them up, but not as long as overnight or working hours. At least my Learning skills are in good shape – getting the rest of those to 4 is my secondary target for Saturday. Some time today, or maybe tomorrow, I should crest 1.5 million skill points.

CrazyKinux linked yesterday to a video of EVE Character Artist Ben Mathis talking about Ambulation at the New York ComicCon, and the presentation included some very impressive slides and video, some of which we’d seen before, but some of which was new. At this point, depending of course on a lot of factors, including user hardware requirements, Ambulation is looking pretty goddamn amazing both visually and from the standpoint of character customization. But obviously, when it launches it cannot possibly be all about how cool the avatars look – otherwise most players will use it once or twice before abandoning it forever in favor of EVE’s ship-based bread and butter. There needs to be stuff to do within Ambulation, and avatar meeting rooms are not going to be enough. Nothing I’ve heard out of CCP aside from that sounds like it’s more than an idea, but they’ve said flat-out that they will not be incorporating avatar-on-avatar combat. Personally, I’d kind of like to see that at least in the very long term, but I acknowledge that it would be problematic to introduce; not only would Ambulation require significant opportunities for activity which aren’t already present in the game, but they would have to be important enough to offset the risk of getting shanked in-station once you’re off your ship. I’m at something of a loss to imagine what those activities might be, although one could probably get a certain amount of mileage out of a few well-constructed minigames and in-station character apartments. The latter is especially interesting, because some folks will want to get to customizing their apartments, which implies salable goods with which to do so – which in turn implies new manufacturing and trade opportunities, and possibly even new tradable resources like textiles and plastics.

Ambulation represents a quantum leap for EVE; in development terms, it’s basically the introduction of a whole new game (as indeed it is, since the Ambulation engine will be used for CCP’s upcoming World of Darkness MMO.) But it’s a tricky balance; how do you give it enough dimension to keep it interesting and worth doing on an ongoing basis, without taking too much away from the ship-based action around which EVE revolves and in which it, frankly, has no rival, much less equal?

Too, there have got to be concerns about player density; the scale of EVE and the number of players active even at peak times strongly imply that when you walk out of your ship, very often you’ll be the only one on that station unless you’re in a hub system like Jita or Rens. Interaction between players is the real heart of EVE, and players in the Ambulation part of the game should continue to experience this. How can that happen given the sheer number of stations in the game? The easiest solution to this would be to have every disembarked character on the same station, which I think would be indescribably dumb for obvious reasons.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m as excited about Ambulation as the next guy; if nothing else, I will welcome the opportunity to make my character look like an interstellar adventurer instead of an emaciated hick. But I think there are reasons for concern – and I mean concern, not panic – that it could either become a letdown or an unbalancing element. In any case, I expect CCP to need to tweak it even after it’s live, and it may take some time to get it just right. Even then, new features and gameplay elements will be almost certainly be added to the Ambulation game after it goes live. But one luxury that EVE players enjoy is a certain degree of confidence that it will be right eventually. Deepest MMO around and all that.

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