Over the weekend just past I had the privilege of attending the New York Comic Con, and this year there was a fairly strong showing by MMO developers and the MMO community. Among the development houses in attendance this year was CCP – Whitewolf, officially known now as CCP North America. They were there to display and demo EVE at their booth, do a few panel presentations, and deny that they are working on a World of Darkness MMO while wearing shirts with ‘World of Darkness Dev Team’ written on their backs. They were also showing some of the non electronic games from White Wolf including a card game called Mwahahaha!, which we demoed at the CCP booth on the first day of the convention. In the game you play the role of a super villain and your goal is to dominate the planet while ruthlessly hampering your opponent’s ability to do the same. The game projects an insane sense of humor which makes it easy to laugh while your minions are getting wiped out and your opponents rob you of your resources. It was a good time, even when you’re getting your ass handed to you by a guy named Viceroy Roboticus or Doctor Hitler. Of course similar feelings are common in games from CCP, where even if you get trounced in a PvP battle, it can still be fun if you lose.
But if you find yourself playing EVE and you just don’t feel like having the fun of getting podded today, CCP is in the process of preparing a space where pod pilots can get away from the kill or be killed environment of deep space and relax. I’m speaking of the ongoing Ambulation Project, the addition to EVE Online which will allow players to walk around on space stations.
The first time I sat down and heard the spiel about this new feature was at EVE Fanfest back in November. After that I sat in on a seminar at GDC where they went over some of the details with a slant more towards informing developers of the processes and procedures they used as well as their results. Now, at Comic Con, I sat in on a very similar seminar which was like the one at GDC but oriented for a fan audience and updating us on where the project stands at the current time.
As far as I could I see, there wasn’t really too much new information about what ambulation would include, but the team seems to be farther along each time I see the presentation, and it has been interesting to watch the evolution of the project thus far. As fans of EVE and non-fans alike may already know, EVE is known for its stunning space visuals, which were highly regarded even before the recent Trinity upgrade which dramatically increased the level of graphical detail. Now their stated goal is to make sure that the characters on the stations are in tune with the level of detail that players have become accustomed to on the outside of the station.
The characters that represent the human avatars of EVE players currently look like stylized caricatures appearing ina 2D image at the bottom of your screen. In the new system, players will have to make new avatars themselves, as making an automated system to do this for players would ultimately be a waste of the developer’s time. Why spend all that time making a complicated system that could never do the job as well as an actual human? Besides, with the previously mentioned level of detail that’s going into these new avatars, making a new avatar should be fun.
To find the look for these new avatars, they took examples of avatar faces that are currently available in game and tried to recreate their features using pictures of real people and morphing specific features from various faces to create realistic images similar to the original, caricature-like pictures. It’s like figuring out what a politician really looks like simply based on their pictures in political cartoons. Staring with that as a basis, they then went to work adding a dazzling array of options to customize the look of your avatar.
Characters start with their bloodline which determines a basic skull structure. After that, players have a few options to edit their skulls, but within realistic guidelines, so no cone-heads or hammerhead eyes. There are several body type sliders, which seem to be becoming a standard for the next generation of MMOs, having one slider for muscle tone and mass, which works in combination with a slider for heavy or thin characters. So players can have a thin but well toned avatar, or an obese character who could be strong and fit under the extra weight, or have no muscles at all from sitting in a pod and eating all day. The cool part about the body types is that they are on sliders, no pre set increments, and the body you choose will effect the animations of your character. The thin, toned guy will have a little more bounce in his step to show his agility, the heavy muscled avatar will carry his weight around like he’s big and strong, and the fat guy will be a little more ponderous in his motion. Body fat content and fitness will also alter the shape of a character’s face by adding more or less flesh onto the existing skull.
Facial features will also be very detailed. Complexion will be more than just the character’s skin color, but will include freckles and varicose veins. There will also be many options in terms of facial details like scars, tattoos, wrinkles, freckles, and the like, which can all be placed on the same face; no need to chose between a scar on one cheek or the other, you can have both and freckles too. You will be able to alter the intensity of all of these features as well. Maybe a scar is fresh and still red, maybe your scar is old and faded. Normally in games there is a limit to the number of morph targets and customization because too many of these details can slow down the game, but in EVE’s Ambulation avatars have an unlimited number of morph targets, which drastically increases customization options, with no limit to the number of textures that can be placed on the face.
With all of the detail that is going into facial and body features, players will need some fancy outfits to go along with them. CCP has hired real world fashion designers to come up with clothing that will look like it belongs in the EVE universe. Making sure that the universe has a consistent feeling, that objects that exist in that universe belong there, is important to CCP. They showed examples of their design pipeline, which is essentially a lengthy flowchart detailing the steps involved in taking a concept through to the end of the design process where it finally gets approved for in-game use. On top of this players will have a number of options when they choose an outfit. Beyond choosing the items color, they also can choose the texture of clothing, which will make it look like cotton, leather, silk or whatever futuristic material they please. They’ve also been working on a cloth simulator so that cloth and hair react dynamically to their surroundings and sway in a more realistic fashion when you walk down the corridors of the space station environments.
The initial concept of ambulation is simply to provide a social space for players. As they said at Fanfest, why would you socialize while mining for ore out in space when you could socialize at over a beer. The system is designed so that players never have to walk around on stations to be successful in the game. It’s more like the addition of a new social utility to the existing game-play. They’ll be phasing in more options and activities after the initial launch, which has yet to be announced, and the new options will mainly be driven by player demand.