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:
@rellecon Is the overview really the best way to be aware of what is around you and where it is?
— Erlendur (@erlendur) February 9, 2014
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?