514 and the Marketing Machine

For the presently-unaware, a few days ago, CCP announced that something interesting would be happening on the Dust 514 website by way of a gigantic countdown timer. The half-awake amongst us will have realised that this coincided with the E3 show (which is still on-going). Those that dug a little deeper worked out that it would align perfectly with the Sony Press Conference.

This in and of itself didn’t necessarily spell doom and gloom for those out there that have a 360 but not a PS3 – myself included: those who watched Microsoft’s presentation would have seen some Mass Effect 3 footage and said game using Kinect features, but Mass Effect 3 was never intended to be an exclusive on any platform. So there was still hope.

Once the Dust counter hit zero, we were ‘treated’ to a livestream of the press conference. I use inverted commas there, because it was the same stream you could see on GameTrailers, Gamespot, or any of the others covering E3. But after an hour or so of trudging through various games that none of us really cared about (even if some were quite pretty), we got what was probably the shortest presentation of the two-hour show.

Dust is to be a PS3 exclusive. And much rabbling ensued (and still is!) on ye olde tweetfleet.

Why Consoles?

Much as I still find the idea of having a run-and-gun game on a console somewhat silly – with analog sticks being such a poor means of accurately coordinating shots compared to the fidelity of the classic mouse and keyboard combination – the decision to make this game a console-only pewpew experience is one that makes a lot of sense.

CCP have always taken on difficult tasks. Eve itself is testament to that. While most MMO developers start on the micro level and scale things up with each expansion, CCP have done the opposite (for the most part) with Eve. They gave us a galaxy to play with, and as time’s gone on, they have been drilling down to give us more detail beyond its grass-roots epic space battles. You can see this in effect in PI today, and Incarna as it’s slowly released over the next year or so.

But what does that have to do with Dust? Its the same thing. Sure, its an abstraction from the game of Eve, but its not a separation from the world of Eve.

The climb in subscribers hasn’t been exponential for Eve. Its been steady up until now (with a few exceptions for things like Unholy Rage), but one has to wonder how many of those are unique new subscribers. I myself make up six subscriptions, for example. I think what CCP discovered a few years ago, is that their leading edge in sci-fi simulation wasn’t going to cut it forever. Sure, they get to enjoy a lot of luxuries because they’ve had no direct competition for the last eight years, but that just makes it a niche game, and sooner or later, you’re going to run out of niche gamers.

A move then – not only to another genre, but to an entirely different platform – makes sense. We’ve already seen the years of forum whining about Incarna being ‘irrelevant’ to Eve, and how people just want “moar spaceships!!”, so moving some of these not-so-spaceshippy activities to another game is probably a good idea.

PC gamers, by and large (unless they are literally blinkered by the likes of WoW) are at least aware of Eve these days. CCP’s flagship product enjoys interactions with the press far outreaching its meagre subscriber base size. Counter to this, is the console market. Having read some of the comments on places like the Playstation blog, a lot of the responses seem to be positive about Dust and that it “came out of left field”. People who game primarily on consoles haven’t really heard of Eve, but a lot of people that play shooters like squad-based gameplay and progression. If that wasn’t the case, the Battlefield games wouldn’t sell as well as they do.

By bringing one aspect of Eve to consoles exclusively, and having it still directly tied to the same online world we experience on our PCs exclusively, CCP can expand the interest in their IP to places that would otherwise have ignored it. Its a really good way of showing people the awesomeness of New Eden without directly alienating their existing customers.

Why the PS3?

I know, I know. When we last saw Dust actually being played, it was at FanFest 2009. Anyone paying attention could see then and there that it was being played on an XBox 360; the controllers are quite a give-away.

I’m not going to say I bought a 360 purely on that basis, but it did play a fairly substantial role in my decision of whether to get a 360 or PS3. Currently, it pretty much gathers dust (lolpun) sitting under the TV until such time as I feel like watching a DVD. I have some games for it, but its so rare that I feel like playing something not on the PC that its horridly underused.

So I should be grumpy about this PS3 exclusivity thing, no? Well, yes and no. Its been long enough since I bought the XBox that I don’t really feel it as a sting in the wallet. Sure, its annoying that I bought a console that I hardly use, but that’s more my fault than anything, and it still serves a purpose as a fairly decent (if expensive) DVD player.

But none of this gets to the heart of the matter. Why no longer on XBox?

I’ve seen comments from people in the past about expenses. How true these claims are, I couldn’t possibly say. These people talk about development costs and Microsoft taking commission on the use of their services and so on. If this is the case, then I can see why CCP would want to move away from such a relationship. Nobody is going to say that Dust isn’t a risky venture, and the better use of their literal ISK that CCP make, the less there is to lose should it all go pear-shaped.

On a personal level, I’ll be damned if I’m paying 15-20% more for a game on a console and then paying a subscription just to play it online when I can do so for free on the PC for less initial investment. And for this reason the PS3 makes more sense: it costs nothing to play online, as any non-MMO should.

There’s also the added bonus of developing for a single platform: it cuts down (potentially) on playtesting and QA time. We all know first-hand how CCP’s QA department can fumble a release, so this could be a blessing when it comes to updates to the game.

But What About…?

There’s a lot of pseudo controversial issues I’ve not talked about here. Like the end of the Dust trailer showing the mercs performing the inverse of the Future Vision video and taking out spaceships from the ground, or how Dust will interact with the PI system, or the micro-transaction ruination of everything good and pure in this world. These are all discussions that need to happen at some point, but they aren’t going to happen here. I’m happy to bounce ideas around with people in-game about the direction of Eve or Dust and how they could destroy (or enrich) each other, but I want to keep this platform primarily focused on Eve, and nothing else.

Will I Play It?

At this stage, I don’t know. I’m assuming a 2012 release, so there’s plenty of time for me to make a bit of money to buy a PS3, or trade-in the 360 I have. On the other hand, the last time I got vaguely hyped about a co-operative shooter was Brink just last month, and while I didn’t find the game as totally disagreeable as some did… even though I was playing with friends and the game featured character progression and levelling, it just didn’t hold my interest at all. I still only have 4 hours clocked on that game, and I have a horrible suspicion that Dust would end up the same as my 360 – gathering a thick cake of its namesake under the TV.

An Apology

Well, several actually.

So, it seems my post generated some interest from various parties, if only for its blatant inaccuracies. Firstly, my claim about Māori designs coming out of nowhere was false:

“For the Brutor tribe, we were actually inspired by the Maori warriors of New Zealand…” (The Art of EVE. 2007. White Wolf Publishing)

The sketch for Brutor in this book also mentions a mix of the above and African. Though that said, the sketch for Sebiestor says ‘cute and girly’, so how accurate that is, I’m not sure. 😛

The second apology is related to the first. One of my friends (and an ex-corpy) in-game also pointed out that while my example tattoo (of my character) was nice, it isn’t really accurate:

The women were not as extensively tattooed as the men. Their upper lips were outlined, usually in dark blue. The nostrils were also very finely incised. The chin moko was always the most popular, and continued to be practised even into the 1970s.

I think if we’re going with this, we should probably limit the types of tattoo by bloodline and gender as well, since Sebiestor are something different, and women aren’t likely to have more than the mouth region with moko. So… yeah. I guess calling it a beard or stubble is kind of insulting, given what its supposed to represent. Sorry about that!

The next thing to apologise for is confusion surrounding the Ray of Matar tattoo. I got a spike of traffic yesterday because of my post, but for the wrong reasons. Its never my intention to confuse anyone, or to spout ignorant garbage, but considering all the faux pas I made, I really dropped the ball on this one.

My opinion on this specific tattoo is almost certainly false, since its based on a reading of the short story from at least five years ago. In fact, the last time I remember reading it was in 2004, when I was still very involved in Matari RP. One of the images in the story:

A Matari tattoo

This is a tattoo displayed within the text for the Ray of Matar story. It is unmarked apart from some (to me anyway) illegible script within the image itself.

Its probably this that gave me the idea, but when you re-read the text you’re presented with “extending down and side-ways from her left eye were several dark lines, ranging from one to three centimeters in length.” which is entirely different to the pattern above.

But there was more to it than this image. I (mistakenly?) merged the above image with the representation of Karin Midular from in-game, who at the time had a tattoo vaguely similar to the one above. I can no longer find an image of her larger than about 128x128px so its really hard to see, or indeed to prove my crazy ramblings.

Anyway, the point is, I should have re-read a load of PF before making such claims. I also should have done a bit of research on the Maori thing, since I do own the Art of EVE book, and I have got internet access… Hopefully people will forgive me. 🙂

The Tattoo Rant

My opinions and discussion on this topic are going to based primarily on the Matari options (naturally!), but I do have characters from most bloodlines that need inking, scarring and piercing.

So we got our tattoos and stuff this week. I’d played about with them on Singularity a couple of weeks back, and my initial thoughts were “these are kinda pretty, but where are the original designs?” I think I (mistakenly) assumed that there would be more selection by the time the 1.4 update to Incursion would be deployed, because now its live, my thoughts are along the lines of “these are kinda pretty, but where are the original designs?”

Except, I sort of know where the original designs are; lining the ‘we can’t do this’ bin in Reykjavik. Whatever happened to ‘war on the impossible’?

While at FanFest, I heard two reasons for this change. One technical, and one aesthetic.

The Technical

Having very little knowledge of texture mapping and 3D type things, I don’t feel qualified to go into great detail about this, but I can relay (as best as I am able) information that I’ve absorbed.

Falling back to the most basic level, there’s two types of computer graphic: Bitmap and Vector. Don’t get confused by the filetype .bmp which is a Bitmap image, but its not exclusive to the file format. Bitmap is essentially drawing pixels on a screen. Your attempts at pixelly spaceships in MS Paint are Bitmap images. When you’re out snapping digital photos, those are Bitmaps. All your game screenshots are Bitmaps.

Vectors are a bit different. Vector images are rendered using mathematics, and while you can have pretty complex Vector images, they are best used for simplistic shapes and logos. The reason behind this, is that because they are rendered from numbers, they can be scaled up or down easily (which – as an example – is where .svg comes from – Scalable Vector Graphics) without a loss of image quality.


Due to the complex patterns in skin and hair, character textures are Bitmap images; usually very large, compressed images, but Bitmaps all the same.

Going back to the previous example though: Tattoos are (reasonably) simplistic shapes, so they’d be ideal for saving in a Vector format.

The argument then, is that some of the older designs did not scale properly in all directions when using different face shapes. If anyone had a free character morph available when 1.4 hit and happened to apply a tattoo then morph the facial areas, they would see all sorts of scaling and compensation going on. The result is tattoos that scale nicely in all directions.

This technical restriction is my favourite, perhaps because I know literally nothing about how CCP has implemented rending of tattoos. However, the few tattoos that do have some semblance to the ones of old are also quite similar to the ones they didn’t include. My old tattoo, for example, I’ve drawn several times – with my old friend, the pen tool in Photoshop – to apply to photo-manipulations (for a calendar project), to a highly cartoonised version of my character in glorious 2D, and to a captured character portrait from a couple of months ago (which you’ll see in a bit further on), when I was bemoaning the lack of any tattoos. I guess some people are never happy, eh? 😛

My point is, if my old tattoo can be stretched and scaled manually, without it looking like a dog’s dinner, then I think CCPs technology can do the same.

The Aesthetic

The second reason some of the tattoos weren’t transferred over, is that they “looked bad”. This brings me rather neatly to the long-overdue, and somewhat trend-setting first image for this post:

A Matari tattoo on a Sebiestor female

I’m not going to argue that this looks bad. I don’t really like how it looks, this is true, but as the saying goes; different strokes for different folks. This is very simplistic though; nobody’s going to argue that.

Our new selection of ink seems to fall into two main categories: The overly complex, and the ridiculously simplistic (see above). I fail to see how most of the old tattoo designs couldn’t have been recreated for this. I mean, they managed to make two Ray of Matar tattoos (below), which does great job of confusing me and screwing with Matari lore, so why not do the others? They aren’t as ornate as the new-new ones, but they aren’t anywhere near as simplistic (and honestly, lazy) as the one above.

Two Ray of Matar tattoos on a Sebiestor female

I'm not sure is the literal Ray of Matar in this image. I think the left side is more like the old one in-game, but I get the impression that the one on the right is a more accurate depiction of the pattern, lore-wise.

I think the tattoos they did remake for the new chargen are the only ones that sit in the middle; not too complex, but not so simple that you feel like no effort was involved. They cover just enough of the face, and are intricate enough to make you ponder on their meaning; this is how it should be.

Another example (sorry, this is getting pretty image-intensive):

An old style tattoo projected onto a new character

This (above) was the full resolution of my character, pre-1.4. I feel I did a reasonable job of handing her a Voluval mark that was stolen from her. If I can do this at such a low resolution, imagine what a professional could do with 2048×2048 maps. Is this too simplistic? Clearly not, from what we’ve already seen. Is it too complex? Hardly. Would it scale correctly? I don’t have the answer for that one, but we’ve seen all the other currently-available facial tattoos scale perfectly, so I see no reason why this (and others) weren’t included.

Instead, I’m left with this:

A new tattoo, as shown on a Brutor female

Now, I do actually like this tattoo. Its ornate, but not completely over-the-top. However, its not really Matari. While we don’t really know what mish-mash of cultures the Matari are supposed to be, it looks like now we’re Māori. Which is lovely, but I don’t recall that ever coming up before.

In addition to this, many of these new detailed inks have some lovely chin patterns, which on smaller images translate quite well as stubble. I can’t speak for everyone of course, but I’m not much of a fan of the Bearded Lady look. Maybe its the same as ‘Real men are manly enough to wear pink’. ‘Real women are feminine enough to sport a goatee’? No? No, I didn’t think so.

I sound very bittervet in this post, I suspect. But that’s not really the case. Tattoos are not only an integral part of personal identity for the Matari, but also denote social standing and help define their role in life. There are those that protest against it (ICly, of course), but because so many of our characters are left without the markings we chose months (or even years) ago, they are – for all intents and purposes – no longer the same character. We’re entering an age of acquiescence. Characters everywhere are accepting other characters’ changes purely because there’s no recourse for it. Nobody is exclaiming about drastically different Voluval markings because we have no choice in the matter. I really love the new patterns we have, but they should be in addition to the markings we had before, not in place of them.

I don’t want a goatee. I don’t want to look like some perversion of Māori society. I just want my old tattoos back.