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Ship Customisation: Cosmetics or Plastic Surgery?

Sugar wants her ships painted. Probably we all would enjoy flying in customized ships. It is a long standing request from the players to CCP, which unfortunately seems to have slim chances of realization in the near future. (see e.g. page 45 of the CSM7 Summer Summit minutes).

Let’s put aside for a moment the well founded concerns of the art department. I believe the majority of players would agree that the spaceship art is one of the defining features of EVE that we all enjoy. Nobody really wants “flesh coloured Thoraxes” as Sugar puts it.  Well, not really at least. Let’s put aside legal concerns of copyright and branding, which already cause trouble in the limited arena of alliance logos.  Let’s assume we have a solution for these kinds of issues.

The technical issues have been discussed at length. Truly customised ship paintings will need a lot of texture assets and there is the concern that this will slow down loading the game considerably especially in large fleet engagements. But wait! We have the avatar system already. Just provide a bunch of knobs that parametrize how a ships look. This is just a few numbers to be transmitted per ship that gets on grid. Then let the client figure it al out. Isn’t that exactly the technology we would like to see for our ships?

Maybe. I have no idea how ship rendering is handled in the EVE client differently from avatar rendering. You’ll need to ask CCP about that. But what if this was actually one reason that those doors in our captains quarters stayed closed? Maybe in tests with many avatars around CCP fond out that the system is not actually capable of delivering the performance one would like to see? Maybe this is a reason for the reluctance to implement ship customisation, although the above referenced minutes mention ship customisation prototypes. These are wild speculations on my side of course. I just found the idea entertaining. It is easy to jump on a developer that she should implement something which is “obviously straight forward” if you do not have to do it yourself while sitting on a huge pile of legacy code.

So what about more simple things. Like corp logos on a ship. Actually the retribution trailer might contain a hidden clue that this is something that CCP is considering more seriously. Maybe CCP would also add a limited number of “tatoo”-like assets. Ralley stripes anyone? The places on the hulls to apply these would probably be predefined by the art department and the 3D designers. If ship customisation is coming I would bet it starts with something like this. And I doubt it would happen before all ships have been given their V3 texture artwork.

Ship customisation has a different twist, though, when we look at it from a game-play perspective. What would it add to the sandbox game?

First of all it would add quite some confusion and troubles or awkwardness to the economy. The way the market is implemented at the moment unique items cannot be put onto the market. That is true for fitted and rigged ships as it would be true for customised hulls. So customised ships could only be traded through contracts or would have to be repainted/sand-blasted in order to remove the customisation. This of course dashes the hopes of all industrialists to deliver their products with large shiny logos on them unless the ship market significantly moves to the contract system. I find that unlikely. So people would simply not sell customised ships. Reselling ships might be more interesting, since this is already often done through contracts in order to preserve the rigs. But then what happens to corp-logos in this case?

While keeping customisation a largely local thing is certainly a possibility, it might make the whole exercise a cosmetic extravagance. Don’t get me wrong, I like spinning my ships and would appreciate anything that makes them a bit more unique (and thus cause me even more pains when they are finally returned into their natural high-entropy state). The emotional binding I currently have to my assets is mainly created by the time and ISK I spent to acquire them. This binding is what makes loss painful and thus a unique game experience. Anything that allows us to create more emotional bindings to our pixel stuff is great!

However, what  I would even like better, are tools which can be used to be creative in the sandbox. Can ship customisation empower the players to weave new stories? Can it be a seed for emergent gameplay? Here are just a couple of suggestions:

  • As an industrialist I would like to put serial numbers on the ships I produce. Just because. And because I think it’s useful. Serial numbers might be permanent. Even better: Let me put QR codes there, which can be filmed with camera drones in space (or alternatively appear in the show-info window. Too fancy? Ok, let me provide a text description of my ship including a link to my indy corp homepage)
  • Use ships customisation as an identification method. Something like this would require that you are not able to simply click on show info (pilot) to see who your enemy is. Instead you actually would have to use that “look at” button. Camera drones would be seen in a meaningful role in such a world. Maybe this is something for Wormholes? It would open all kinds of tactics with tampered logos and so on. Just an idea.
  • Ship wrecks may retain customisation. Who’s wrecks are those, two jumps out from our home?

While writing this I become aware that ship individuality (and not only pilot individuality) is a bit against the general design of EVE Online, where ships are a essentially consumables. Nevertheless I’d like to encourage people to think about what it would bring to the sandbox beyond pretty pixels when they discuss ship customisation. This might involve slightly more surgery on EVE gameplay than “just” adding a bunch of textures. It might be worthwhile though for the sake of our sandbox.

Fly smart! Chira.

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About chiralityeve

A rookie capsuleer exploring the depths of New Eden

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