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EVE Evolved: Making EVE beautiful


When it was released back in 2003, EVE Online was one of the most visually impressive games on the market. Over the coming years, the graphics aged gracefully next to competitors on the market and all seemed well. Nonetheless, CCP were not content to let their flagship game's graphics eventually go out of date. In true CCP style, they developed a long-term staged delivery plan for the complete overhaul of the game's graphics. The first stage of delivery came with the Trinity expansion, in which a premium client was launched with incredible high resolution ship models. This was just the first stage in a plan to keep EVE graphically ahead of any competitors.

In this technical article, I look at the science of making EVE beautiful and examine CCP's plans for the future.

Ship models:
In EVE, your ship will always be the most important thing in the game. Even when the Walking In Stations expansion arrives, the most important aspect of the game will still be ship combat. The ship models were therefore the top priority on the overhaul schedule. The models released with the trinity expansion weren't just higher resolution versions of existing ships. A team of artists worked for months to recreate the ship models and give them a new high-detail look. Distinctive panelling and groove effects were applied to give a sense of scale and model materials were re-examined.

Stargates and stations received a similar overhaul, with station sizes also being increased to give a much better sense of ship scale. Taking advantage of leaps in shader and hardware rendering technology, CCP applied impressive lighting, reflection and shadow effects. They also laid the foundation for complex animation and model deformation effects that have so far only been used in the rogue drone models.

Special effects:
With the apocrypha expansion, CCP took the next step forward in their staged delivery plan. Special effects such as stasis webs and energy neutralisers that were starting to show their age next to the premium ship models were given a complete overhaul. The new effects have been optimised for fast rendering on your computer's graphics hardware. More importantly, CCP's visual computing team put a lot of work into making each of the effects look awesome.

Stasis webbifiers were changed from a simple 2D image placed behind the ship to an impressive new spatial distortion effect. This effect appears to actually bend the space around the ship, slowing it down. The only negative comments I've heard about this impressive new effect are that since it's a transparent distortion, it can be a little difficult to see. The same kind of effects have been used to produce the spatial distortion graphics for wormholes and the new jumping effect when going through a stargate.

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