Aug 6, 2015

Walking In Stations: An Impossible Dream?

Recently, the Neocom podcast crew put out a Tinfoil Factory episode on Walking in Stations. It's a lively discussion worth listening to. The panel is composed of players (including two Signaleers--Dorian Reu and Illustria Madeveda) who embrace a variety of play styles and who range in character age from nearly the beginning of EVE Online to just a few weeks old. I found myself smiling wistfully at some of their starry-eyed ideas, many of which have been discussed in the past. Otto Bismarck's opinion of Incarna as it was implemented had me nodding in sad agreement.

The idea of avatar-based gameplay has been bandied about by CCP and players for years. Here's a little history which might provide some insights into the topic. Yes, you'll have to click the links and actually read stuff to become better informed.

EVElopedia's Walking in Stations page states that avatar-based gameplay was first referred to as Ambulation. "Walking in stations" (WIS) was a more descriptive name that eventually stuck as the general reference to avatar based gameplay. The release that was intended to start the ball rolling for avatar based gameplay was called Incarna.

As far as I can tell, Ambulation was first publicly discussed in late 2006 at Fanfest with a follow-up in the Walking in Stations dev blog by CCP t0rfifrans. Several months later a dev blog on Walking in Stations: Tactical Map by CCP Eris Discordia was published.

In 2007 at FanFest, Ten Ton Hammer did a video Q&A with CCP t0rfifrans about Ambulation.

In 2008, CCP t0rfifrans was interviewed by Jim Rossignal for Rock Paper Shotgun on the walking-in-stations future of EVE. He was also interviewed at FanFest by's (then) managing editor Jon Wood about Walking in Stations.

I couldn't find anything in 2009 from CCP about the state of Incarna development or more details about what kind of walking-in-stations content was in the works. This doesn't mean there wasn't anything, but in the time I had to research this post my Google-fu didn't reveal any.

In 2010, CCP was talking about a Summer 2011 Incarna release but had provided no information about what it would contain. Given the relatively ambitious schedule for such a major feature, CSM5 (to which I was elected Chair) requested a status update (to no avail) in the internal forums used for communicating with CCP. We put Incarna on the agenda at all three summits: in June (page 12 of the Minutes), October (page 15 of the Minutes), and December (page 7 of the Minutes). In early October, CCP t0rfifrans published a dev blog that introduced the new Character Creator but reiterated that doing so did not mean an Incarna release was imminent. In December, CCP Ph00ze released a dev blog that talked about the technical challenges of the new Character Creator but did not mention Incarna or release date details for the Character Creator beyond Soon(tm). By the end of December, CSM5's concern was growing. Outside the Summits, no devs would engage with us about Incarna's gameplay or design details yet CCP's apparent intention was to release Incarna within 6 months. After careful consideration, we determined that our obligation to represent players' concerns warranted a public statement to CCP about our Incarna concerns in the form of an open letter on the forums. This statement was extremely controversial and received zero response from CCP (despite our giving them several weeks to respond to it prior to its publication).

It's no secret that 2010 was an extremely disappointing and frustrating year for me, especially as regards Incarna -- a feature that, based on prior hype from CCP, I had been wildly enthusiastic about. Suffice to say, I had a very bad feeling about the planned Incarna release.

In 2011, dev blogs preceding the Incarna release proliferated. CCP Chiliad talked about content for the Incarna release. CCP Zulu soon after announced a release date and summarized what was coming in the first Incarna release. CCP t0rfifrans and CCP Flying Scotsman provided a video preview of Incarna. It was starting to become clear that "walking in stations" really meant walking by ourselves in a single room with nothing much to do there. The release of Incarna that summer was a huge disappointment relative to "walking in stations". That disappointment was exacerbated by extremely short-sighted and misguided decisions that CCP made regarding the pricing and type of items made available in what we now know as the New Eden Store as well as the total lack of attention to flying in space features that were screaming for iteration or just plain broken. Cue rage and drama, riots in Jita, mass unsubs, and finally a re-focus on the Flying in Space part of the game.  Note: For further insight into the Incarna expansion (which involved more than avatar-related stuff), see Sugar Kyle's A Look at the History of Expansions, Part 22 and Part 23

Fast forward to 2015. Following the Incarna debacle, CCP suffered a few shake-ups, resources were re-focused on the spaceships, and many welcome improvements have been implemented for the Flying in Space part of the game. In many ways, CCP is a much better company and EVE is a much better game. It's not surprising then that players continue to discuss their hopes for Walking in Stations.

But to seriously consider such a massive feature necessarily leads to some important questions:
  • Does CCP have the chops to design and implement a Walking in Stations feature that would mesh with the Flying in Space game and be favorably received by players? 
  • Is such an investment even remotely feasible? 
I don't know the answers to these questions but the history of CCP's efforts relative to avatar-based gameplay doesn't inspire confidence. So, while it's fun to brainstorm about Walking in Stations, I think it is an impossible dream for the foreseeable future. Yeah, sorry to rain on your parade, WIS enthusiasts :P That said, I have no doubt that such a feature properly implemented could be amazing and fun. And despite my pessimism, I really do hope the time comes when the CQ door is unlocked and we can pursue our hopes and dreams in stations and other structures as well as in space. I just hope that time doesn't come until CCP is prepared to do it right. What "right" is remains to be seen.

Note: Please comment about any inaccuracies in my post, with links to supporting info if possible, so that I can make corrections. 


  1. You earnt that disposition and I won't contradict it, whatever we may wish for I'm not sure even this CCP has it in them.

  2. We've been saying it on The Open Comms Show for well over a year now that ambulation (with some requisite degree of initial content beyond the door), can only be developed in complete secrecy at this point. Develop it in the CCP bunker as one of their side projects, then just release it. Don't talk about it, don't hype it, just do it, release it and iterate on further content. But after the Incarna debacle, telling the players they were spending resources on it would just result in the cries that they are taking away resources from developing flying in space.

    Ambulation could totally be a thing even if the initial content was literally just walking past other avatars in a station. But hyping it and trickling out delivery isn't an option for them.

    Its not a small undertaking by any means so I'm not holding my breath. I don't think they are dumping those level of resources into Eve and I'm not sure what the return on investment would be at this point.

    1. I agree with you, Dirk. Even though CCP wrote off the WoD investment, it is nice to think that some of the tangible by-products of that work might not go to waste. But given the pace at which technology evolves, any code, art, or other assets from WoD would likely already be too obsolete to inform potential work on Walking in Space.

    2. (Seriously, what is with Blogspot eating my replies unless I use Chrome? Are Google trying to be Microsoft ca. 1994?)

      There is this little grace note at the end of it all:

      The takeaway: A small team tried creating exploration-style avatar gameplay using rapid development tools. They succeeded with a playable scenario in a matter of months, to general acclaim from the company as a whole, and with an official thumbs-up from then-Executive Producer CCP Unifex.

      Of course, the decision at the time was that CCP had other things to concentrate on, but the experiment was to determine if a) there was good avatar gameplay to be had in EVE, and b) whether it could be developed quickly and cheaply. The experiment succeeded on both counts.

      So that's the proven-feasible roadmap for development of avatar gameplay: small teams; RAD tools; full gameplay design and testing before anyone bothers lore or art with more than broad technical questions. It could be done with a small, full-time skunkworks team, or with a larger group of 20%ers. The way has been shown. The only questions are when and how.

      And I agree, any development would be under the radar and completely un-hyped. In fact, one of the luxuries of this style of development is that, as with the prototype, the EP doesn't have to give it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down until she's seen a full playable demo--notwithstanding that the game will look like a Minecraft mod coming out of the toolset. CCP doesn't have to commit until they know first hand that they have a good thing.

    3. Actually, the only question is when. The how of it is settled.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks very interesting material I had no idea, but as Dirk points out this could only be developed further in secret, the burden of the past is likely over whelming.

    2. Completely agree... the whining, tears and rage from the FisTards (players who feel FiS is the ONLY "ACCEPTABLE" and "CORRECT" way to play EVE) would be truly epic...

      But IMHO it just might be be worth it in the long run if they did do it openly...

      (1) tend to clean out the shallow, scummy end of the EVE playerbase gene pool as twere and
      (2) give the rest of us AND a whole new addition to the playerbase MOAR immersion and gemeplay options... moar stuff to DO in EVE!!! Yea!