Daily Archives: June 14, 2010

Steep Learning Curve? We Meant to do That!

We were going to talk about this as part of SUWT #64, but it quickly got trumped by the Lord of the Rings Online going free to play news.  However, I still want to get my two cents in on it, so here it goes.

CCP, in an interview over at Worlds in Motion, spoke about the steep learning curve of EVE Online, calling it a necessary evil.

And I am not in general disagreement with their feeling that a big part of the game’s attraction is that it is more hard core than, say, World of Warcraft, and that they need to maintain that feel.  Making the game easier would not necessarily make it better.

My problem with the whole hard core mentality is that a number of things that make for the legendary “vertical learning curve” shouldn’t be there.

Certainly things like learning to fit and fight your ship effectively should be a long journey with no absolute right answer for every situation.  Being able to effectively make ISK on the market is something that one could spend ages perfecting.  And the meta game, the politics of EVE Online and its corporations and alliances, is something that deserves advance study.

But the steep learning curve kicks in the moment you start playing the game.

Think of the guy in the Ibis

There is a tutorial, and it is has improved greatly over time, but it still does not really prepare you for the game, nor do I think it can ever prepare you due to some poor design decisions that have been around forever.

I will start with one of my favorites, one of my early points of confusion, which is figuring out what a module does and how you should compare one module with another.  And I’ll point specifically to missile launchers, which should be easy to understand.

There are two basic parameters to missile launchers:  How many missiles do they hold and how fast do they spit them out.  That should be easy to figure out.  I should be able to look at the information about any two given missile launchers and know those answers in a snap.

And while I cannot deny the data is there, figuring things out in a snap is not so easy.

Standard Missile Launcher Grid

In my mind, in my ideal world, capacity should be listed as the number of missiles the launcher can hold while rate of fire should be how many missiles launched over a given period of time.

I mean, that is how we do things in the real world.

But in EVE Online you get capacity as a measure of magazine volume and rate of fire as a unit that I think is the time between launches, but I’m still not sure about that. (By the way, the fact that you can get this information displayed as a grid is a huge improvement over the past method of looking at each module information screen individually.)

It would be like listing out the data on an M-16 by giving you the volume of a standard STANAG magazine and telling you that when you pull the trigger, a bullet leaves the barrel every .009 seconds.  Sure, you could figure out the volume of the actual ammunition and get its capacity, or more likely just stuff rounds in it until you figured out that somewhere between 20 and 30 fit, but those just are not the best units of measure to express what the weapon does.

And I might even buy into the capacity expressed as volume if missiles for a given launcher came in different sizes.  But looking through standard missiles, as an example, shows that they are all the same size.

So, ideally, that chart should show the number of missiles a given launcher holds and how many missiles it can launch over the course of a minute.  Those would be numbers people could see, comprehend, and make decisions with.

This applies to all weapon modules.

And, yes, somebody will say, “EVE Fitting Tool” like it is some magic incantation.  The EVE Fitting Tool is awesome, but it shouldn’t be needed for such basic information.  I should be playing with the EFT to hone optimum fittings and ammunition loads for given circumstances.  It is a tool for refinement, not first cases.

And then there is my other favorite question in EVE Online.  It is the topic of the second most popular post on this site of all time.  It is, “How do I find an agent in EVE Online?

I wrote that post almost three years ago and not only is it the second most popular post here of all time, it is in the top ten most viewed posts on this site every single day.

And, the worst part is, three years later, there still isn’t a better way to find an agent.

Yes, this is care bear stuff, and the Hulkageddon heroes will eschew it as worthless.  But it is apparently something people want to know.

EVE Online has the most awe inspiring map in any game I have ever played.  If you want to get somebody who likes outer space interested in the game, just open up that map.  The map is a selling point.

And the map has just gotten better and better over time.  I love all the information it provides.

Every System I Have Visited

But it won’t tell me where the nearest level 4 Amarr Navy agent is.  And it certainly won’t tell me what agents are available to me.

I can find what agents are available, then find the system, then see how many jumps I have to travel, until I have mapped out enough agents to decide which one is really the closest one that fits my needs.  But this is a trial and error approach with me trying to collate game data in my head or on a scratch pad.

And the reason that this burns me is that it is all data the game has and presenting it in usable form is totally in keeping with the spirit of the game.

In my opinion, WoW telling me the DPS on a weapon is completely immersion breaking. (Hell, two swords having such widely different damages as a level 1 and a level 85 sword should be a total immersion breaker.)  But EVE Online takes place in the future, in a time when the information age has had a chance to advance and mature.  Are you trying to tell me that data presentation is going to get worse in the future?  Is Google Maps the pinnacle of the art and it is all going to get worse as time goes on?

So these are my two poster children for reasonably smoothing out some of the unnecessary bumps in the learning curve in EVE Online.  Truly, the only excuses I can think for not addressing these two are:

  • Nobody cares (a lie)
  • Current players are used to the way things are (elitism)
  • CCP has more important things to work on (maybe, but you’d have a new guy or an intern do some of this sort of thing in my experience)

And yes, these are fiddly little detail items, but they are things that new players run into, things that, if they could grasp easily, they might feel more secure moving deeper into the game while not changing the hard core nature that EVE has.

What other items in EVE do you feel are similarly unnecessarily obscure?

Or must everything in EVE Online be difficult to understand in order to keep the feel of the game?