Updated Thu, Jun 21, 2012 by B. de la Durantaye
If you haven't heard about Sony Online Entertainment's new SOEmote, you're missing out. This new bit of tech may not be aimed to change the way people play games but it certainly promises to add a fun new dimension to online worlds.
What is SOEmote? Partnered with Image Metrics for facial recognition and Vivox for voice fonts, SOEmote is integrated software that scans your face using your PC camera and translates your facial actions to your character in-game. Turning your head, raising your eyebrows, even moving your eyes and speaking in front of your camera animates your game character with the same movements. Best of all: the technology is going to be introduced to EverQuest II within a month and SOE has even bigger plans for SOEmote with later games, including the upcoming 3rd EverQuest game (as of yet unnamed, but codenamed EverQuest 'Next' by the gaming community).
We spoke with EverQuest Executive Producer Dave Georgeson about the science behind the device and how SOE plans to not necessarily change how we play games, but certainly how we experience them. Having come from a roleplaying background himself, it is no surprise Georgeson expressed excitement for video-game roleplayers.
"We're starting with just a small portion of what we'll eventually be able to do," Georgeson told us. "Right now the camera can read up to 30 degrees and be able to read movements up to 10 feet away. We will be able to open that to 60 degrees. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. We want to expand this to be able to track hand and body movement. It will be like you have your own private motion capture studio where you can save your own emotes. Roleplaying heaven!" Georgeson also indicated that it's not outside the realm of possibility to use this software to "implant" your own face and features onto your in-game character, bringing a whole new dimension to character creation.
"Body language breaks down walls you didn't know were there," Georgeson continued. "Once you have the ability to convey your body language and facial expressions into a game you open up a whole new level of interaction... Every roleplaying game needs to have this feature... and they will!" he predicted.
Adding an extra few degrees of depth to roleplaying and social interaction isn't the only potential application of SOEmote. Georgeson went on to explain that this technology could even be used to monitor a player's pupil dilation. This kind of involuntary feedback could eventually change the very way games are built.
SOEmote uses minimal bandwidth and can be configured with a single click. The software has the ability to scan up to 5000 points on the human face and selectively transmit far fewer for purposes of speed. During the demo even though the entire face was being scanned only the eyebrows, eyes and mouth movements were transferred to the game.
Although SOEmote doesn't require expensive hardware Georgeson did point out that some cameras work better than others. At time of launch SOE will have a list of recommended cameras. And although the camera will scan the face, no likeness of a person is transmitted anywhere--it's simply a stream of data containing facial points, or dots, so the privacy risk is minimal.
Our minds began to wander as we started thinking about different ways SOEmote could be used. We thought about entire new breeds of machinima and the potential of "virtual celebrities" (those who excelled at acting via proxy), and then onto how motion capture could be used to even cast spells if applied.
"Wait until you see spellweaving in the next EverQuest," Georgeson teased. "I've said too much but you've never played a game like it. I can promise you that.
"We have two EverQuest games we can already use as testbeds for what we plan on with the next one. While we're doing that we're putting a huge focus on storytelling over the next year. We want characters to become memorable parts of the story arcs. We want to bring back the world to virtual worlds. This is a re-imagined Norrath. Think of the EverQuest games as three separate universes--a multiverse."
As of yet relatively little is known about the next EverQuest, but now that we knew SOE is planning on integrating SOEmote and focusing their energies on making the new game a breathing world as opposed to the standard online games we see in many of today's MMOs we asked Georgeson when they were planning on revealing more.
"We need to finish up with the Destiny of Velious stuff in EverQuest II first," he responded. "We have a very specific plan for the reveal and until the vision can be realized we won't reveal much more about it. We have four pillars to overcome. We've just gotten over one and a half now. But expect more next year. " Georgeson then smiled mischievously and laughed, pulling back a bit. "I just can't wait to show you guys."
The first taste of SOEmote will be introduced to EverQuest II by July. EverQuest III, or EQ 'Next' will have to wait. In the meantime, grab a camera and get ready to put your game face on... or 'in' as the case may be.