Eve-Online – New graphic engine rewritten from scratch

There’s an interesting new dev blog (that you can read here) with the details about the new graphic features that CCP is planning to implement in Eve later this year. We had already various rumors about a graphic upgrade that was in the work, now we know that there are two distinct, parallel projects: one is to implement new features such as HDR, self-shadowing and normal maps in the current engine while also making some optimizations, the other is to rewrite a new graphic engine from scratch to take advantage of the unique features of the DirectX 10 and Windows Vista.

Some quotes:

If you’re not an EON subscriber, or you haven’t received your copy yet, you may not be aware we’ve announced that we’re working on a number of graphics upgrades to Eve, including a client with a completely new graphics engine designed for DX10 and Windows Vista. The real announcement of all of this is going to happen at E3 but we released a preview, and some pictures of the related remodelling of ships, in EON #3.

Development of the DX10 / Vista graphics engine, is development for the future and it will not stop us from continuing to make improvements on, fixes to and support of the current graphics engine.

I’ve recently been working on reducing the amount of lag caused by warp-in (on all clients). We determined that a significant factor in the lag created when warping into something like a fleet battle was the disk access for loading the ships. The solution I’ve been working on is to finally add preloading in warp and threaded disk IO to Eve. The changes required to do this mean many server and client modules have been altered or extended slightly, which makes it a higher risk change, and means that it’s likely to be slated for the Kali release to ensure it gets adequate testing.

Indeed, most of the work currently is going into making the DX9 Trinity engine support new graphics features that will also be part of the DX10 engine. These features will be optional where they place requirements on hardware above our current requirements. The key distinction being that the current engine is being extended with optional features, while the DX10 version will be a ‘new’ engine designed to take full advantage of the DX10 spec.

The rewrite that we’re doing for DX10 is a huge shift in the basic architecture of the engine, and we need a solid platform to do it on. The current Trinity can and will be optimized and extended, but as a 5 year old engine it’s reaching the end of its lifespan. After all, there is a limit to what you can do with an engine fundamentally plugged into DX8 level functionality. Looking forward, we need an engine that we can push the envelope with for the next 6 or so years, and it needs to be built around the key features of where the technology is going. As far as the features that we’ll be putting in exclusively for Eve Vista, it’s far too early to tell.

For sure they are planning in advance for the longer term and they are completely dedicated to Eve instead of splitting on multiple projects as the majority of the mmorpg companies are doing. My belief is that this attitude will pay back. Eve-Online has a huge potential and I already commented some outstanding features that are planned for Kali and that could bring the game to a new level.

On the new features of the graphic engine I’m still quite skeptical, though. The game looks already amazing and the new textures and HDR could make it even better, but I also hope that they focus on the real problems, like the flickering textures on most of the space stations due to the limits of the z-buffer. It kind of ruins completely the prettiness. Beside this, more than fanciful new graphic features the graphic engine would need a redesign of the *concepts*. See my critiques to the combat system, so that what you see on the screen would resemble more closely to what actually happens in the game.

The graphic isn’t just a dress, it should be more directly tied with the mechanics. Making something pretty is good but the priority should go to make it usable, so that what you see isn’t just a pretty screenshot but a more complete interface with the game world. A vehicle for the interaction. Material that you use instead than just observe passively. In Eve-Online there is already a gap between the 3d world and the interface you use to play and, as I wrote, the two need to be brought together.

Anyway, for now this is the only image released:

To compare with the version currently in the game.

I also noticed that Cosmik mentions at the end of a long post that there is a new company (Vivox) that is planning to offer voice chat support to the current mmorpgs, through some kind of middleware, I guess. Well, Eve-Online could be one of the first games trying this. I remember to have read some rumors about this (but it’s really just about speculations).

As I wrote for DAoC I’m never happy when a mmorpg announces official support for voice chat because it makes it become mandatory as a consequence. Voice chat encourages player’s segregation and is never good for a game, it becomes another accessibility barrier and Eve definitely doesn’t need another. It breaks up the community and discourages the casual play. That said, in Eve the voice chat could even fit prefectly with the setting. Think for example if you got a pop-up while flying in a system saying “incoming transmission”, then by accepting it you would have a dynamic voice channel opened with the guy who wanted to send the message. It could be cool and immersive. Well, at least till the pretty girl you see in the image doesn’t get the voice of a guy.

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