EVE Evolved title
EVE Online recently celebrated the release of its incredible Crucible expansion, noted as one of the most feature-heavy expansions in the game's history despite the majority of its features being produced in a period of just a few weeks. Two years' worth of graphical upgrades, features, balance upgrades and quality-of-life fixes hit Tranquility all at once, and the response from players has been incredibly positive.

Last week I rounded up all the information there is to know about the Crucible expansion, but reading articles and news posts is no substitute for hands-on experience. This week I took a tour around parts of New Eden to explore the incredible new graphics Crucible delivered. As I have a background in graphics programming, the graphical upgrades are obviously the most exciting change for me. The astounding background nebulae are even more impressive when you know just how difficult it would be to build a nebula system that looks this incredible from any location.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I explore a reborn galaxy and catalogue my adventures in a massive HD gallery.

Gallery title image

side-imageNice touches

The biggest change with the new nebulae is that they aren't just painted backgrounds that change from system to system; they're real three-dimensional objects that you move through as you jump from system to system. The view of the nebulae is redrawn for each system and stored in the skybox. I don't know whether the skyboxes are loaded from disk or or rendered on your PC every time you jump to a new system, but whichever method is used the load times are practically zero. Jumping from system to system takes just as much time as it always did, and traveling long-distance has been made much less irritating by the inclusion of a warp command in the jump button.

In my own graphics experiments, I created a similar system that renders a galaxy background from a given location within the galaxy, with every star and nebula being rendered in its correct location. I found that the system didn't really give the sense of position and movement within the galaxy I was hoping for, and CCP has overcome this hurdle by creating relatively few but highly distinctive nebulae and cleverly positioning each one over a specific region of space. The nebula in Gallente high-security space is a striking green and gold, the Caldari clouds are silver and blue with streaks of black, the Minmatar nebulae burn deep red, and Amarr space is brown with a golden glow. Based on where you are within high-security space, you'll see each of the nebulae from a different vantage point and know exactly where you are within the galaxy.

side-imageOuter reaches

One of the main complaints with EVE's old background graphics was that the bright, oversaturated nebulae provided an unrealistic view of space. Sci-fi fans are used to staring at the inky black of interstellar space, and New Eden's vibrant stellar nursery clashed with that ideal. The new graphics deal with this problem directly, making the size and shape of each nebula both clear and realistic. When you're inside a nebula, you'll see it all around you, and although it's as bright as the old backgrounds, it's more acceptable as you know exactly what's causing it.

Most systems still have a lot of the inky blackness we expect from space, and as you head farther into the unsafe areas of space, the effect is magnified. The low-security systems between empires look far-removed, as you're visibly between the nebulae and can see them in the background. Once you get out into nullsec, the empire nebulae begin to get even more distant, and smaller, bizarrely shaped nebulae lie strewn about. The Outer Ring nebula is absolutely incredible, and it's something everyone should visit at least once.

Jumps between region gates can completely change the background, shooting you across immense distances. Now that we have this stunning nebular indicator of location in New Eden, it would be nice if the jump sequence for a region gate felt more powerful to give you a better indication of just how far you're jumping.

side-imageWarping space

The warp tunnel graphics have had a massive overhaul, giving a strong sense that space is bending and warping around your ship. When you warp to a location near a planet, the planet flickers into existence as it enters visual range, an effect that looks incredible. As most stargates are near planets, this happens a lot and never fails to please. Warping through a planet is an equally big visual treat, with the warp tunnel melting into black as you enter the planet and peeling back into the light once you exit.

Nearby stars are visible on top of the background, and when a stargate fires it now visibly shoots you toward the target star. CCP's attention to detail is evident, as all the nearby stars are in the right locations. In my tour I came across other little touches that might always have been there but that make a lot more sense now that we have this massive nebular indicator of position within the universe. On the border between Caldari lowsec and Guristas space, for example, I found a Guristas recruitment center. The graphics gave me the sense I was leaving Caldari space, and the Guristas recruitment center confirmed my immediate destination.

Final thoughts
Of all the Crucible additions, the graphics updates are a clear favourite. As I toured New Eden snapping screenshots of far-off places, I passed through system after system of people talking about the new warp effects, engine trails and nebulae. The new background graphics provide a suitably dark look for EVE's harsh universe and have breathed new life into the game just when it needed it most.

Surprisingly, the old graphics somehow look renewed on new backdrops. Mission complexes, stargates, planets and NPCs have all been upgraded over the years with gritty and realistic graphical styles, but they've been set on a bright and almost cartoonish background that hasn't significantly changed since EVE was released in 2003. Now that they're set against a backdrop of the same visual style, they look a lot more impressive.

I've barely scratched the surface of what there is to see in New Eden in this article, and much of it looks a lot more impressive first-hand than in a screenshot. If you only do one thing in EVE this week, get into a shuttle or a cheap frigate and go for a tour around the new galaxy. When you see the new warp effects and nebulas first hand, I guarantee your jaw will hit the floor.

Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to brendan@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.
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