Ascension: Looking Good (Mostly)

I'm supposed to wear this for three days? What are you thinking, CCP?

The registration process for EVE Vegas 2016 was quick and easy - after scanning my ticket, the CCP staff gave me a paper wrist band and a badge, and I became an official attendee. Everyone is a bit mystified about the wrist bands. Apparently, CCP doesn't think that we bathe when attending gamer conferences? I'll see how mine holds up in the shower, though I suspect there are going to be a lot of bandless attendees showing up over the next two days.

After registering, I joined a group of EVE media personalities at a nearby bar. It's a little strange seeing new faces to match up with the long-familiar names and voices from blogs and podcasts. Marc Scaurus, of the Just for Crits blog, organized the gathering. We gave him a little good-natured ribbing about his scheduled EVE Vegas presentation on "Inside the EVE Media", telling him we were all planning to attend and heckle him throughout.

We EVE media types look nothing like our avatars - not at all.

Marc has announced that he is quitting EVE, but I don't give it much credence - everyone who leaves EVE Online seems to come back after a while. We all try to deny our addiction ("I can quit whenever I want!"), but we never really leave - we just take the occasional hiatus away from the game. You'll be back, Marc, and we will welcome your inevitable return with open arms.

CCP Falcon and CCP Guard kick off the start of EVE Vegas 2016

CCP Falcon and CCP Guard kick off the start of EVE Vegas 2016

After a flag-waving opening (literally) by CCP Guard and CCP Falcon - who revealed that there were an impressive 800+ attendees at EVE Vegas this year - and a short break, CCP Seagull, Executive Producer for EVE Online, started the keynote address. I won't recap everything that she and the other CCP presenters covered here - you can watch the recorded video. Suffice it to say that there are a lot of interesting new features coming out with the Ascension update to EVE Online on November 15th.

I was hoping that CCP Seagull would use the opening keynote to unveil a future roadmap for the game's planned development, but it was clear from the start that the emphasis for this presentation would be on Ascension, the new update due in a couple of weeks. There were hints that the more forward-thinking presentation would be forthcoming on Sunday, so I'm content to wait.

I thought I had a pretty good understanding about what is coming out in Ascension, but the keynote includes some really interesting reveals. The keynote succeeded in putting any concerns I had about this release to rest. Based on what I saw, Ascension is looking really good, and I'm now very confident that it will be a significant success.

It's all about the Alphas

The big news for Ascension is the introduction of a free-to-play option, called the Alpha clone state, and it's clear that CCP is going to advertise this very heavily. They are banking on a horde of new players streaming into the game. I have my doubts about how many Alphas will join EVE Online - I estimate a 10-15 percent increase in average daily log-in counts, perhaps. But I'm a cynical, old bittervet, and I could be way off. Perhaps Alphas will draw a tidal wave of new players into the game - I would love to see it.

I'm happy with CCP's decision to keep the same limits on Alphas that we currently have for Trial Accounts, preventing multibox log-ins with an Alpha clone character. This should keep any potential abuses to a minimum.

Critical to the success of Alphas is the new player experience (NPE). This has been revamped for Ascension by CCP Ghost and his team. The new NPE is called Inception, and it is designed around a narrative story. In this regard, Inception does its job well.

The success of the NPE is not merely a function of how well it explains game mechanics - candidly, the old tutorial-driven system did this just fine. Rather, the NPE really only succeeds if sets an emotional hook to a player's character. If Inception gets Alpha players to invest emotionally in their character, they will be much more likely to stay. I plan to set up a new character and try the new NPE myself, once it comes out - but from what I've seen so far, I think it will succeed at retaining a higher number of new players.

Ascension brings new Engineering Complex structures - and the end of solo industry

Ascension brings new Engineering Complex structures - and the end of solo industry

The End of Solo Industry

CCP Fozzie described the new engineering complexes (ECs). After speaking with other attendees who play in null-sec, wormholes, low-sec and high-sec, the general consensus is that they are inadequately armed soap bubbles, which will be very difficult to defend. I heard some ideas for locating ECs at 1,000 kms from Citadels, since missile ranges from Citadels will extend out to 1,100 kms, providing some nominal defensive coverage. Why CCP doesn't allow ECs to be anchored closer to Citadels, in order to create clusters of structures in space for mutual defense, is a mystery to everyone.

In his keynote comments, CCP Fozzie said that the Raitaru medium-sized EC would be suitable for "bold solo industrialists". Based on the numbers I've run, and supported by the conclusions of other analysts, only idiotic industrialists would try to operate an EC alone. They are simply not defensible unless you have a team of people able to rally together to fend off attackers. As a solo platform, an EC of any size is just a giant loot pinata.

Once Player-Owned Starbases (POS) are discontinued, solo industry in EVE Online, in any kind of space, is dead. The only option for individual manufacturers will be to use station facilities, which is expensive and generally unprofitable.

Personally, I'd love to see CCP introduce a small EC - or some kind of comparable mobile depot for limited industry - that approximates the functions of current POS towers and arrays, with significantly lower bonuses than medium ECs, and which can be taken down quickly. Then there would be something for aspiring solo industrialists to use. But perhaps this is the point - CCP clearly wants industry to be conducted exclusively by larger alliances and corporations. Soon, individual entrepreneurship will be an extremely rare thing in New Eden, if it exists at all.

This is my only disappointment for Ascension. My days as a successful Tech II manufacturer in high-sec are numbered. Time to find another way to make a living in New Eden.

In-game simulated fitting looks amazing!

Amazing Simulated Fitting

Previously known as "ghost fitting" the demo of the simulated fitting capability coming out in Ascension went far beyond my expectations. Not only does it intelligently replicate the functions of EVE Fitting Tool (EFT) and Pyfa, but it does so with some very valuable new features.

For example, it screens out modules that don't fit on the ship you are working with, making it much easier to learn what different modules do for your design. Even more useful, it allows the user to buy the modules needed and instantly outfit multiple ships with the same fitting. This makes the previously tedious job of setting up multiple doctrine-compliant ships much, much easier and faster.

Kudos to CCP karkur and the other developers who worked on this feature - it looks fantastic.

Dynamic interactive PvE, at last!

CCP Larrikin talked about the new interactive non-player character (NPC) mining fleets that will start to appear in asteroid belts. This goes far, far beyond what I expected for this new feature - these NPCs will react to player actions, and fight just as players do to defend themselves.

I can't wait to try out this new feature. If the NPCs do in fact react as intelligently as he led us to believe, this opens a whole new chapter in how player-vs-environment (PvE) content will be handled in EVE Online. It will convert the systems of New Eden into dynamic, realistic spaces, full of vitality and activity, with which players can interact.

Of all the announced features for Ascension, this is the one I am most excited about.

Consistent ship skins that can be applied to all ship types and races - coming soon!

Consistent ship skins that can be applied to all ship types and races - coming soon!

Corp and Alliance Ship Skins - Soon?

CCP Seagull revealed that an upcoming revamp of the ship skin technology will provide more flexibility in how ships appear, and in how much they can be customized. She also revealed that these color schemes can be installed across racial and ship type boundaries.

This provides the opportunity for consistent corporation or alliance standard ship appearance - something that alliance leaders have desired for years. While this will have no impact on ship performance, of course, it will create a level of affiliation and unity for fleet members. Essentially, all the soldiers will be wearing the same uniforms when they go into combat and fight as a team.

It's a little thing, compared to the other more practical features announced in the keynote, but it definitely got the most buzz from the attendees.

The new mobile app for iOS and Android - now you'll be able to keep tabs on your Internet spaceships, anywhere, all the time!

The new mobile app for iOS and Android - now you'll be able to keep tabs on your Internet spaceships, anywhere, all the time!

Other Nice Things

CCP Seagull also announced a few other interesting features:

  • A new EVE Online store - now you can buy your swag from an official shop
  • A cool mobile app for iPhones and Android devices - EVE Online Portal
  • Recruiting bonuses for referrals and for corporations - a bonus of skill points for referring new players, and for corporations recruiting new players into the game

And a New Song

Overall, I was impressed with the opening keynote. Lots of great features and interesting reveals. Now I go to attend the presentations and roundtables, to learn more details. I will report on the key findings here.

CCP Guard ended the event with a new, slightly cheesy, but undeniably catchy Permaband rap song. I love it.

Fly safe! o7