[CCP Games senior staff discuss their multi-disciplinary approach to breathing new life into character creation in EVE Online's Incursion expansion, while preserving the avatar traits players have become attached to over the years. The new character creator system is a precursor of the upcoming Incarna release, where players will emerge from their spaceships and interact as highly-detailed full body avatars in space stations.]
Players often form attachments to their avatars in any massively multiplayer online game, and EVE Online is no exception. With over seven years of history and a dedicated player base, the decision to revamp the look of characters that players have come to identify with presented CCP with both opportunities and challenges.
It was decided early in the process that improving the aesthetics of EVE Online's characters should not come at the expense of casting aside the qualities players identified with in their avatars. The goal for CCP then was to build upon the strengths of the old character creation system when ushering in the new.
Arnar Hrafn Gylfason, senior producer of EVE Online
As a first step towards Incarna, the introduction of full body avatars to EVE Online, we've recently released the in-development character creation and customization system on Singularity, our public test server.
The internet is flowing with portraits and video footage of the new characters and the feedback we've been getting is overwhelmingly positive at this point, even though only about 50 percent of the functionality has been made available in this initial test server release.
There has been a great deal of planning and work involved with putting this system in the hands of the EVE Online player base in the game's upcoming Incursion expansion, and we thought it would be fun to write up a little piece on how development of the character creator has progressed so far.
To provide you with an accurate picture, we've gotten a few of the key players at CCP involved in this process to share their thoughts about design inspirations with the character creator, how the new system improves upon the old, and the technical hurdles encountered along the way.
It's interesting to note that some of the people involved in this project were also part of the team that built the original character creator for EVE Online prior to its release in 2003, while others have only recently joined the company. The melding of legacy developers with the fresh perspective of the new has certainly added to the depth of rich detail seen in these new avatars.
Torfi Frans Ólafsson, creative director of EVE Online
When it came to overhauling our character creator, there were a number of creative challenges to be dealt with. Ignoring technological advancements, EVE Online's visual style has matured considerably since 2001 to 2003 when our original character creation assets were developed.
We decided to move beyond the old costumes, accessories, hairstyles and character heads and build completely new ones which were still rooted in the same backstory as the original assets. Given the fact that we have a large number of players that have been with us for a long time, we knew that we would be "hurting their children" as they had grown attached to their existing portraits and it feels strange to have all of that taken away and replaced with a new system.
So, extra care was taken to keep the spirit and core style of each race, bloodline and gender, despite us evolving them by seven years.
EVE Online is largely about empowerment. It's about giving players multiple interworking yet simple tools and operational freedom as well as embracing emergent behavior, making players feel a strong sense of ownership and control. So our key theme for the new character creator is that the player was to feel that he personally, single-handedly, through his decisions and skill created a hyper-realistic human representation of his character in-game. The player should want to call up his mother, brimming with pride, saying, "I have created a masterpiece!"
While they are working with 3D assets and textures custom-created by highly talented artists and programmed by large teams of engineers, we want players to completely forget about the fact that this is a piece of software that happens to use 3D assets and shader trickery. We tried to remove sliders as much as possible and instead have the players act on the model itself, like they were sculpting.
Again, people who are not professional 3D artists will feel as if they are sculpting or pulling clay, while in fact they're mixing and blending 3D assets painstakingly created by our team of artists with the intent of achieving a sense of subjective mastery.