Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Overview: EVE On Easy Mode (BB53)


Welcome to the continuing monthly EVE Blog Banters and our 53rd edition! For more details about what the blog banters are visit the Blog Banter page.

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Today's topic comes from a tweet from @erlendur (aka EVE Online's Development Director, CCP Explorer) in a conversation he was having with a pilot about having multiple overview tabs open in separate windows:
So that is the topic this month: The Overview. Is it sufficient? If not how can it be improved? Is there some way to replace it? Does it give too much information, or not enough? Please be creative and specific as the overview currently is the heartbeat of the GUI.

The Overview: EVE on Easy Mode

Important gameplay here
Let's be clear: I hate the overview.

It think it is ruinous to EVE's gameplay, turning what would have been a sci-fi experience requiring spatial awareness, keen observation and good co-ordination into an interactive shopping list for the obsessive-compulsive.

The overview short-cuts the entire spaceship experience, replacing it with a table of words and numbers. In times of action, rarely will a player need to look elsewhere on the screen, instead sifting through rows of text-based data. It is the overview which is responsible for EVE's reputation as a spreadsheet in space.

Furthermore, without the ability to understand and customise this spreadsheet, your gameplay experience will be impaired and you will be laughed out of fleets.

Sadly, it is so good at what it does, the overview is Pandora's spreadsheet - it cannot be removed from the game without instigating an epic tantrum from those who have become dependent on it, and that is enough of the core playerbase to leave CCP's development brains paralysed with fear, stifling any possible UX revolution.

Does this mean EVE is forever condemned to be stuck in the past, a niche video-game curio one level up from a text adventure and beloved only by masochists, obsessives, and apparently 'narcists'.

Maybe not. Let's get emergent.

An Overview-Free Future?

EVE without the spreadsheet is pretty. If only it were functional too.
EVE can be played without the overview. Shocking I know, but you should try it at least once. Actually, make it twice because your first time* will probably get you killed.
*okay, every time.

There are plenty of other tools at the player's disposal to enable overview-free piloting: the brackets, the tracking camera, the contextual radial menu and the tactical overlay. I've tried it (in PvE - I ain't that stupid) and in many ways it's really fun.

Once you get past the sensation of having a limb missing, you actually get a sense of engaging with your environment, of interacting with the world around you. You start to notice things and enjoy the sci-fi universe. It evokes a sense of heightened immersion.

But in other ways, playing without the overview is incredibly frustrating (perversely, this is probably how new players feel as they struggle with the overview). When you know that there's an easier way to lock targets or find a warp destination, actually having to look for them in the three-dimensional world around you is a chore. It's much easier to pick from a list.

In fact, the properly prepared overview is so effective that it renders the visual element of EVE almost entirely pointless. Try having the main screen set to the galactic map and see how little impact it has on your overview-led gameplay. It raises a question over why CCP even bother to employ artists or have a 3D game engine at all.

Ouch, who was that? Aha!
I say EVE's visuals are almost entirely pointless, because recent UI improvements have given the main 3D view some relevance, with the HUD providing providing target threat indicators, interaction tracer lines and e-war effect warnings. Developmentally, this is an encouraging step, but to make overview-free combat gameplay a challenging prospect without leaving players wanting to smash themselves in the face with the mouse, there would need to be many more improvements.

But the truth is, there will never be as effective a target management tool as that godawful spreadsheet.

However, what if using the overview was a fitting choice?

The Overview Module

A fitting screen, yesterday.
Imagine if the overview was not available by default, instead only becoming available if the appropriate module is fitted. This module would have fitting demands that would require loadout compromises to be made (primarily the loss of the module slot, but other drawbacks could be considered too).

Shifting the overview to a module would preserve overview-led gameplay for the spreadsheet purists, but give rise to a new kind of instinctive pilot who has other uses for the module slot and would instead learn to read his environment rather than his instruments.

Sound too hard? I think the common response to that is HTFU.

This new overview paradigm would create new inter-player dependencies, with benefits to overview-free and overview-enabled pilots flying together. The overview would become a valuable leadership and intel tool. Fleet Commanders and scouts might favour overview module use, whilst the 'gut pilot' would be loaded for maximum military effectiveness.

If overview-free PvP combat became a thing, it could attract a new kind of player to EVE and would create a play-style bridge between EVE, DUST and the upcoming Valkyrie.

It would also mean that pilots would have to pay attention and stop playing EVE on easy mode. Take your spreadsheet stabilisers off, you wussies. ;)

Emergent gameplay, needing to adapt, inventive brutality: that's what EVE is all about, isn't it?


15 comments:

  1. I once played through a couple of PvE missions with only the overview, as for some reason the main 3D spaceview was glitching out and / or generally wasn't showing anything useful. I had no problem whatsoever succesfully finishing those missions.

    Not that I actually *want* to play that way ...

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    1. I know right? It's archaic. I had games on my BBC Micro in the 80s which were essentially EVE's overview. There /has/ to be a more elegant solution.

      Delete
  2. Not fond of your module idea, but I share your hate of the overview.

    You are presented with perfect information on pretty much *everything* at any time. This is useful for various different play styles, jobs, and so on; but in the end you need to filter out 90% of the junk information to make a decision.

    If you land on grid with 500 other ships, you are instantly presented with the pilot names, ship types and so on; but also with very detailed information like their speed, radial velocity and so on. The only thing remaining information-wise is targeting a ship; to show you the ships shield/armor/structure levels.

    What if you would only get detailed information like angular velocity when you have the ship targeted? It would require you to gauge their position relative to your own ship in 3D space to judge whether or not you can shoot them with your guns.

    But we will need better tools; a better tactical overview map, some radar or some sort of commander view.

    Still, in the end, EVE is not a fps/Wing Commander style space-ship game. I will be thrilled if it could be, but that's a trap to avoid with this discussion.

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    1. Aye, any holistic solution would be better than having everything meaningful crammed into such an anodyne interface. Other banters have suggested ways of making it prettier or separating it from the client, but that would still result in the majority of the EVE client being ignored.

      To be honest, the 'overview as a module' concept was borne more of a way of mitigating the discontented players who would march on Reykjavik at the slightest suggestion of change of this magnitude.

      Making the overview optional would not be enough as it is just more efficient, so providing an option where the overview information is redistributed across the screen would just go unused, unless the playing field was levelled in some way. I'd be interested to hear other ways of achieving that.

      So to create an EVE gameplay environment where the overview is optional but there are viable alternatives, first we have to recognise that it is overpowered and needs nerfing.

      I realise that its too radical a change to ever be seriously considered. More's the pity.

      Delete
  3. Great perspective! So the answer to erlendurs tweet is most likely that the overview is the most efficient way to display the info. But it isn't nice and it puts all this nice graphics in the background.

    Your aproach with an overview free gameplay is a very refreshing idea. It won't happen now and not tomorrow either, but it surely is a good direction to aim for.

    What would be needed to get rid of the overview?
    You would need an easy mode to sort your brackets, only viewing the stuff you want to see. You still need a way to quickly select gates without seeking for them in 3D view. Yes you could right click but that isn't an intuitive way, is it?

    As I said, great article, it inspires to think about alternatives. And the more I think about it, the conclusion matures that eve could be much more beautyful without overview.

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    1. Thanks Chanina. Indeed, my answer to Erlendur's question is that, yes, the overview is the best, most efficient way and will never be bettered, but it bypasses a lot of would could otherwise be considered gameplay. It's like a god-mode dev tool.

      There's a lot of work to be done with the present UI before it could begin to provide an alternative. But some things are already possible.

      With an autopilot destination selected, the required stargate can be located by its yellow bracket, although the difference between yellow and white makes it tricky, so making bracket icons stand out would be a great improvement. I like the idea that, in overview-free gameplay, having local knowledge of stargate arrangements would be an advantage.

      The tracking camera in its present state is a mixed bag. In some respects it is useful, but more in conjunction with the overview: select item on overview, allow camera to show location. It's often annoying when used the other way around. I'll have a camera angle set up (perhaps on an object I'm orbiting), but as soon as a combat target is selected, the angle shifts. The camera is dumb presently.

      The real issue is with combat. Selecting multiple targets - especially moving ones - is incredibly frustrating. That's where a lot of the improvements would need to take place. Presently, there is a suggestion of a workable system, with mouseover collecting the brackets together in a selectable list. Not ideal, but perhaps something to improve upon.

      Whatever the result, it would be a system that would require a degree of skill. UI development has been creeping in that direction and it is my vain hope that it would one day become a viable alternative to the spreadsheet.

      Delete
  4. Back in the day, in order to force ourselves to learn the ins and outs of the overview, we would sometimes run gangs on "Map Mode" in PvP. It is entirely possible to play or PvP Eve without the 3d portion.In my opinion that is entirely unacceptable.

    Personally I believe we are at the point where a truly interactive, feedback-based graphical interface is possible. A much simpler, on the surface, presentation of information in an iconic format that responds to current situations and player feedback in real time.

    I know you read the post and while I agree it could be extremely difficult to pursue this direction at this point in Eve's history, I also believe we should. Perhaps the current overview remains as an option for a period of time during the transition?

    Either way, as soon as I find some time I'm going to make a proof of concept. Somehow.

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    1. I look forward to seeing your proof of concepts when you have the chance. It's nice to dream.

      I don't think we can ever expect the overview to go away - as I said, it's out of the box now, it's never going back in. But I do like the idea of marginalising it and making it available for use, but at a cost to ship fitting or performance.

      Kind of like a AWACS spy-plane, you wouldn't send one in to tackle a battleship but it's bloody handy having an eye in the sky.

      Delete
  5. I don't really agree with all these concerns. If anything, the strengths of the overview serve as a barrier to developing the 3D spatial awareness that the strongest EVE PvP players need to have. Yes, as the blobs get bigger, spatial awareness is less of an issue, but try flying frigates in small gangs with just an overview and, well, good luck.

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  6. So, how exactly would you plan on targeting a MWDing interceptor, or for that matter any nearby fast ship?

    You might be a webbing ship designed as a hard counter, but you can't select your targets...

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    1. It's a good question. As I stated...

      "...but to make overview-free combat gameplay a challenging prospect without leaving players wanting to smash themselves in the face with the mouse, there would need to be many more improvements."

      The specific nature of those improvements is certainly a good direction to take the discussion and something I'm certainly mulling over. As I said, "there will never be as effective a target management tool as that godawful spreadsheet."

      But just wildly brainstorming: a hotkey to 'lock fastest ship (on screen)' and/or 'cycle through targets (by speed)', an on-screen drag-to-select field. The ability for an overview-enabled pilot to 'share target'.

      Granted, none of those are likely to be as effective as picking an item from a spreadsheet list, but all of them are closer to being a gameplay element than a shopping list organiser.

      What I'm driving at is the idea of viewing the overview not as a necessary tool but as a developer's god-mod that escaped.

      Delete
  7. I'd like to envision a screen where the other ships are represented by vectors in 3d space. You want to target the fast interceptor? - scan for the one with the very, thin long vector. You want to target the battleship? - that's the thick, heavy vector that has a flashing red arrowhead because he's shooting at you. See those light-blue streaks coming in from the left? - that's a trio of assault frigates coming out of warp.

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  8. Nowe Google Oculus Rift i para rękawic z czujnikami do wydawania komend podobnie jak w "Raporcie Mniejszości" :)
    New Google Oculus Rift and a pair of gloves with sensors to issue commands like in "Minority Report" :)
    Will be so cooll :)

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  9. Agree that the overview is ruining immersion, although I think just redesigning it would be fine. And I think CCP have that on their agenda - they love improving immersion, luckily for us, those who see EVE as universe, rather than just videogame pixels and buttons.

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Lay it on me.