EVE Vegas 2016: EVE Online is finally getting a real tutorial

    
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One of EVE Online‘s developers once described the new player experience with the line “Welcome to EVE, here’s a Rubik’s cube, go f**k yourself,” and he wasn’t wrong. EVE has a well-earned reputation for being a difficult game with an incomprehensible user interface, and new players are just dropped into it at the deep end. CCP has tried to overhaul the new player experience several times over the years and even implemented an achievement-style Opportunities system, but 51% of new players still quit by around the two hour mark.

This was the monumental problem inherited by CCP Ghost, the weird chap who showed us all a scan of his brain at EVE Fanfest back in May. Ghost had some interesting ideas for revamping the tutorial using a story based approach, and this weekend at EVE Vegas 2016 we got to see the final result of this work in action along with details of how it was designed. Under the codename of Inception, the first stage of EVE‘s new fully voiced story tutorial will be going live with the Ascension expansion on November 15th. After seeing the Inception tutorial in action, I finally see what has been missing all this time and realise that EVE has never actually had a proper immersive tutorial before.

Read on to find out what makes EVE‘s upcoming Inception tutorial so different, how it was designed, and what the future may hold for EVE‘s new player experience.

aurahighlightHow the Inception story works

When you make a new character in the Ascension expansion, you’ll take on the role of a new recruit for one of your faction’s military corporations. Each of the four empire factions has a different mentor who gives you tasks to complete through a fully voiced series of story missions. The mentors are there to give you the “why” of the story and your broad motivation rather than micromanaging your actions or telling you what to click. That role is passed off to your ship’s AI, Aura, who will give you detailed minute-to-minute instructions on exactly how to complete the instructor’s task and uses tools such as UI highlighting and tooltips to give you direction.

There’s an interesting dynamic at play between the player the instructor and Aura, with the instructor taking on an almost father figure role and Aura playing the patient virtual mother who looks after the player. The instructor starts off indifferent to you and warms up as you prove your worth throughout the tutorial, which Ghost believes will make players want the approval of the instructor and feel rewarded for getting it in the end. This may be the kind of emotional hook that EVE‘s early game has been missing, and it’s hoped that this will be enough to keep people engaged and get them beyond the two hour mark.

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Emotional connection and CCP Ghost’s brain

The reason CCP is using voice acting (including actress Christina Cole from the TV show Suits as the voice of Aura) and attempting to evoke an emotional response from players isn’t just to make a more engrossing story. Ghost explained during his talk that an emotional response causes us to form more vivid memories and he believes this will actually help new players learn the game’s mechanics and recall them later. As the emotional resonance of a memory is diminished each time the memory is recalled, it’s important to maximise the intensity of the emotion when the memory is laid down.

Every veteran EVE player will have dozens of stories about amazing things that have happened to them in game, and they will vividly recall them months or years after the fact. This is because the PvP and social gameplay in EVE have very high levels of emotional resonance, and that’s a big part of what makes EVE so attractive to us in the first place. A new player hasn’t got the same emotional investment in their ships and social connections, so they don’t experience that until long after they’ve pushed through the tutorial. It makes sense then to try to replace that absent emotional resonance in the early game with one crafted by the developers, and that’s exactly what Inception aims to do.

side-4Making the new player a hero in his own story

The Inception story uses engaging characters, elements of mystery, and visual cues in an attempt to create some emotional resonance and make you feel invested in the game long enough to grab onto a more permanent hook.

You’re doing the most basic things like approaching objects, exploring space, hacking, and warping, but it’s all tied up in a story that gives it context and makes it seem so much bigger and more important than it is. As a result, you’re starting EVE as this unappreciated underdog hero investigating the drifter menace for a senior official in your empire’s military rather than as a tiny worthless newbie.

Without spoiling too much about the story, Ghost confirmed that there’s a point at which you will run across a capital ship and are instructed to tackle it in your tiny frigate to stop it from reaching its allies. This shows you exactly how a new player can be actually useful in apex gameplay such as fighting a capital ship, and how you can be the hero of a real EVE battle even if all you’ve got is a little frigate and a whole lot of courage.

ironbankThe future of EVE‘s New Player Experience

Inception on its own should make the new player experience a hell of a lot better, but we’re told that it’s actually just the first phase and there’s a lot more on the way. This first phase focuses on the Drifters as they’re EVE‘s universal scary bad guys and it ties in with the current storyline, and the next phase will focus on the different conflicts between the four empires. The second phase will also gradually give players more autonomy and Aura will hold your hand a little less.

Developers will also be looking at ways to let players set their own goals after the tutorial, possibly by showing you stats such as your net worth, number of missions completed, and how close you are to being able to fly a particular ship. The intent would be to let players set their own short-, mid-, and long-term goals and track progress toward them.

Ghost also mentioned a new Operations system his team is thinking about that would follow on from the tutorial, giving us more explicit goals to complete out in the wider world of EVE in categories such as mining or exploration and extra rewards for completing them. Many of the ideas being considered are similar to ideas I explored recently in an article about using achievements and character life goals as part of the New Player Experience, so it’s really exciting to see that the devs are thinking along similar lines and it’ll be great to see how much of this eventually makes it into the game.

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Everyone knows that EVE Online‘s New Player Experience hasn’t ever been up to scratch, but I don’t think I fully realised what we were missing until CCP Ghost stepped on stage this weekend and showed us a demo of the completed Inception story. Gone are the days of being dropped into the deep end of one of the most complex and intimidating games in the world with your hands tied behind your back, and good riddance to it.

The only people who made it through the old tutorial process and subscribed in the long-term were usually those who showed unusual perseverance, had friends in the game to give them a helping hand, or really enjoyed the challenge of picking difficult games apart. The Inception tutorial might finally make the game accessible to a wider audience and keep people playing long enough to figure out why so many of us love the game. Launching at this the same time as a free to play account option could be one of the best things to ever happen to EVE Online.

Disclosure: In accordance with Massively OP’s ethics policy, we must disclose that CCP paid for our writer’s travel, accommodation, and ticket for this event along with several other members of the gaming press. CCP has neither requested nor been granted any control or influence over our coverage of the event, and the writer is paid exclusively by Massively OP for this work. And yes, I absolutely plan to drag more of my friends into EVE using the Inception tutorial!