by Cody "Micajah" Bye
At this point, I think it's safe to say that Leipzig GC is the new E3. During the time this article was being written, the Ten Ton Hammer team had been at the conference for two whole days, and we had more announcements, exclusives, and new content than any other show attended this year. As if the new Warhammer classes weren't enough, we also have an interview with SOE's Darrin McPherson up on the upcoming dragon in Vanguard and a preview of LotRO's Book 11 that was narrated by executive producer Jeffrey Steefel. Next on our docket of developers to go see was CCP|White Wolf and their amazingly popular sci-fi MMOG, EVE Online, so when we sat down with EVE Online's associate producer, Arend Stührmann, we were ready for anything to come our way.
To our surprise and utter enjoyment, Arend flipped open his laptop and began pounding away on his keyboard. In the games industry, we've come to learn that whenever a developer pops open a laptop, you know you're going to see something interesting. Much like Magnus for us at GDC, Arend wanted to show us something neat and frickin' cool. After getting everything adjusted the way he wanted it, Arend turned the laptop around and came beside us so he could point out particular items on the screen.
Before our eyes was a set of two pictures, one labeled "before" and the other "after". Like something you'd see on a Jenny Craig weightless informercial, the "before" picture certainly couldn't stand up to the "after" picture in terms of beauty, style or sheer awesomeness factor. According to Arend, what we were looking at was what the EVE developers have dubbed Trinity 2, which is a complete graphics update for EVE Online that remodels the starships in EVE to not only look better than they had previously, but also take some of the graphics processing away from the CPU and direct it towards the GPU to enhance the performance associated with these new graphics. While the graphics have certainly been improved, Arend relayed the fact (and Magnus wanted to make sure this was clear) that Trinity 2 is NOT the upgrade to DirectX 10 and is merely an overall improvement to the visuals in the DirectX 9 version of the game. "People are really going to notice the difference," Arend said. "It's pretty phenomenal."
"Everything's been revamped: all the ships, stations, and stargates are completely new," Arend continued. "People who are familiar with EVE will jump back into the game simply to fly around and look at the improvements we've made to each individual ship. We anticipate people building new ships simply to experience the new graphics." To the Ten Ton Hammer team, it was like experiencing a whole new universe that we'd never seen before, and we only saw the very tip of the iceberg. "The amount of depth and detail we can put into our new models is completely beyond what we've done previously," Arend added.
For those of you worried about your computer specs and the ability of an older machine to run the Trinity 2 engine, you shouldn't be afraid. In fact, the EVE devs have taken your predicament into account and have made the Trinity 2 upgrade completely optional. "We still have a very high average age of players," Arend said. "And alot of our gamers aren't your stereotypical players that keep their rigs on the cutting edge, so we wanted to make sure they could still use the old client." In other words, players that choose to forsake the upgrade due to fear of game slow down can choose to view the game through the older graphics engine rather than suffering any sort of performance loss from the graphic improvements. "Those players won't be on a different server, nor will they be playing a different game," Arend said. "They'll simply see the old models."
Taking a moment away from the presentation, Arend made sure to show us the models where you could clearly observe the most change. "The Thrasher model is probably one of the best examples to show," Arend said. "It was one of the newer models we introduced on the old engine, but the improvements are still absolutely amazing. The amount of detail we can put in is phenomenal; we can put in antennae, ridges, and you get a much better feeling of depth. The sense of scale in the game has been increased. A Rifter is supposed to be the size of a 747; you can imagine how big a cruiser is. Trinity 2 improves that feeling. On top of all that, turret mounts are actually there, and it's no longer just empty space."
At this point, Ten Ton Hammer's resident EVE expert, Phil Comeau, asked Arend a question that has been tossed around excessively in the community concerning turrets. In the current version of EVE, when a larger ship equips turrets, they are extremely small compared to the size of the overall vessel. Phil, like many EVE fans, was wondering if the big ships would finally get larger turrets.
"We're trying to make sure everything works first," Arend said. "Then we're going to be looking at the turrets. It's something that we are aware of, and it's something that we'd like to address. We understand that when you look at a Megathron it looks silly to see some piddly little turrets on it. But we want to make sure the basics are in."
Even without the turret upgrades, the size of the download for the Trinity 2 upgrade is going to be enormous. According to Arend, the EVE team expects the download to be right around 2 GB, which isn't anything to sneeze at. But Arend wasn't daunted by the vast size of the upgrade. "This really lays the ground work for our continued expansion," Arend said. "We want to offer new and old players alike the best visual experience they can get. Not only that, but with more players constantly entering the game, the new client's enhanced performance equals better results for the player when they get into large groups."
"It's really going to vault us into the next generation," Arend said. "Couple this with our DirectX 10 upgrade and players will be presented with an amazing visual experience."
From the Ten Ton Hammer perspective, most of us couldn't believe the phenomenal quality at which these models were viewed. We all came to a similar conclusion: The EVE Online graphics are art in motion. As Garrett Fuller watched one of the screenshots come up, he asked whether the screenshot was an artist's rendering or not. Arend assured us that the screenshot had been pulled from the game using the new Trinity 2 engine. Give me a frame and let me mount a screenshot on my wall and it wouldn't be out of place hanging next to any modern pieces of artwork. "It looks like a painting," Fuller commented.
Finally, Arend gave the timeline for the release of Trinity 2. According to the CCP associate producer, the new graphics update will be available before the end of the year. There's a possibility that Trinity 2 will be released along with Revelations 3, but if the content for Revelations 3 is not ready, a decision will need to be made by Magnus and the "higher-ups" to determine whether the two upgrades will be released separately or as a bundle.
Another item that will be making an introduction into EVE Online in the near future will be the Rorqual, which is designed to be the mother of all mining support ships. "The Rorqual is designed to be able to compress ore to a fraction of its original size for easy transportation, and when it's in siege mode it has a 300 km tractor beam," Arend said. "It has a clone vat bay just like other capitals. It has a hanger array. The only thing I can compare it to is a Japanese whaling fleet. This is the mothership and all your mining barges are the feeders. We're still looking to balance it as far as compression ratios and defensive capabilities are concerned, but this is really going to be an asset," In the opinion of all those sitting at the table, we couldn't help but agree that even if some of the smaller corps could build one of these ships they could become much more economically viable.
"We're really looking forward to seeing how this affects the game," Arend said. "Our lead economist is tracking this particular ship very closely to see what kind of difference it makes. At the moment we're seeing mineral prices go to really, really high levels, and it's getting more expensive to produce stuff in the game. Seeing as our economy is player-driven, our economist is just keeping a really close eye on things. I think this is one of those situations where having a full-time economist is really going to pay off for us and especially the players. Economics in the real world is tricky at best; it's even different for a virtual world." According to Arend, the Rorqual will be released in Revelations 2.2, which is supposed to hit the servers in "a month or so."
Even with the introduction and tweaking of the Rorqual, CCP is also working to adjust some balancing issues - particularly the Nosferatu modules. "This is a much needed balancing act," Arend stated, "because there was really nothing to counter the Nosferatu." For those unfamiliar with the Nosferatu module, they are energy vampires. It drains energy from your ships capacitor into the capacitor of the ship that is targeting you. Unfortunately, the only way to counter a Nosferatu is by recharging energy faster than the module can drain your energy away. It's possible, but then you have nothing left to use on your ship. "People are up in arms about the change," Arend said. "But we're all about balanced gameplay and having a module that has no counter is not really a balanced game. Changing it something that we feel is necessary."
"PvP is all about the thrill, but it's also about always running into the unknown," Arend continued. "With the modular set up you shouldn't be able to predict exactly what your opponent may have. But with the current Nosferatu module you can do just that. Right now if you see a Dominix in certain parts of EVE, you know for sure that they've got Nosferatus. It strips away the element of surprise and anticipation out of combat."
As always, EVE Online surprised us with their constant desire to move forward with the game design and their desire to make the game perfect for their users. Expect lots of new information to be coming to Ten Ton Hammer in the very near future as we line up more industry events and learn more about our comrades in Iceland!
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