"Building EVE has always been about empowerment," Olafsson says. "So in our initial release we're not going to be jamming storyline down the throats of players or having loads of missions. Some might say it's relatively empty. But my perspective is providing tools and options for the player." All very trendy stuff right now, but it's worth noting that player-driven content has been part of EVE's and CCP's philosophy since day one.
You'll be able to rent a "socket", buy a bar blueprint and insert it. Set your own restrictions on the clientele, hire NPCs to populate the bar (including dancers), even craft dialogue rules for them to create your own little quasi-missions and adventure storylines. Then sit back and watch the beer money roll in. Maybe.
"Drinking beer doesn't get you anywhere in EVE, just as in life," Olafsson says. "If you drink too much beer your avatar will grow fat. There are methods to grow thinner." It's not all booze - Olafsson also mentions tattoo parlours, plastic surgeons, gyms and places you go to "purge" your body. It's all about booze and vanity then.
The idea is to use the players to solve a perennial problem with social spaces in MMOs - that nobody but hardcore role-players uses them. If players want to make money, they'll have to advertise their bars and services and find ways to draw other players in. "What's beautiful about that is rather than 100,000 bars with nobody in them, you'll have a few bars with people in them because owners promote them," Olafsson says.
"Although the invisible hand of economics doesn't work outside of EVE currently, I'm hoping it's going to be working inside of EVE," he adds. An Icelander ought to know.
Crafting clothes will be another new source of income in Walking In Stations, although it's likely to be done via the regular market than clothing boutiques. Crafting and trading in general are going to be left out of Walking In Stations at first, as well as agent missions. CCP reasons that what you can do with a few mouse-clicks now, you're unlikely to want to spend five minutes walking around to do later. "It's important that we don't create gameplay mechanics that are just there for realism and are hugely annoying," Olafsson says.
Of course, there's more serious business to be done in EVE than selling alcohol and facelifts. Corporation offices will probably be the true hubs of station activity. They'll be split into two areas, a foyer open to everybody where programmed NPCs spout recruitment slogans and give away stuff, and a meeting room for members. You'll be able to communicate via standard local chat, but there's also built-in voice chat with "voice fonts" to distort and alter your tones to something suitable for your character. CCP is also working on a reputation system, so that pilots with a high standing will draw the gaze of other avatars in the vicinity, and determine their attitudes.
On the development agenda, but not promised for the first release, is a shared tactical map, fed by information from scouts, that can be used to organise logistics and battle operations on a macro level. On a micro level, there will be mini-games, including a tactical strategy game played out on hexagonal board ("very good if I say so myself", says Olafsson). It can be played against other players and AI for money. Other games will also tend towards multiplayer strategy, to reflect the cerebral nature of EVE itself.
Taking a hands-on tour, what immediately strikes you is that the title is quite literal - you'll be walking, not running, everywhere. It feels painfully slow, although it gives the environment a sober and credible feel that the usual manic dashing and jumping would ruin. There will be airport-style walkways to speed your progress on longer trips. In a neat touch, the camera zooms into an over-the-shoulder view to allow you to study the detailed interiors (first-person is also planned). Although the promenade was a predictable expanse of smooth, sculpted steel, the bar we visited had a darker, grungier, more lived-in and jerry-rigged look. CCP say they want players to be able to role-play Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca - the cool owner who adventurers want to drink with.
Walking in Stations' presentation at Fanfest was impressive - but limited and transparently far from finished. It hasn't even reached alpha testing yet, and the chances of it making the first of the next year's two expansions look pretty remote. But the project has implications beyond EVE - it's surely a technology testbed for CCP's second game, the mysterious, vampiric horror-fantasy World of Darkness. As such, it's reassuring that the developer is investing in cutting-edge technology, and developing realistic, worldly content with the same intellectual thoroughness and dedication to player freedom that it has brought to the abstract reaches of space.