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The Tattered Notebook: Why SOEmote is good for gaming

Karen Bryan

Sometimes, the real fun with MMOs is trying to figure out what exactly is planned, and how it will affect your game of choice. Right now for EverQuest II, that's definitely the case, because there are a lot of quiet changes that keep you on your toes.

We recently saw an article posted about EQII tradeskills, and another announcing the new Hero's Edge items, which give you a leg up in the game and are supposedly there because of majority support for them in a recent in-game poll. On top of that, we're knee-deep in the EQII dungeon maker contest, which pits players against each other to see who can make the best player-made dungeon in the Poet's Palace map. But what trumped all that this week was the announcement of SOEmote, a new feature that lets you add animations to your character and change your voice in chat to match your toon. What is SOEmote and is it a good addition to the game? This week's The Tattered Notebook will examine both questions!

My toon, myself

On last week's SOE Webcast, Dave "SmokeJumper" Georgeson, Director of Development for the EverQuest franchise, cryptically hinted about upcoming changes to EQII. He said, "One last little thing, We have a press leak going out on the 30th, and then there's a big announcement happening on the first day of E3. It's all related to EQII. Watch out for it." Yesterday, we found out what that big news was -- players will now be able to add facial expressions to their characters and modulate their voice in chat to match the character they're playing.

There are two different pieces of technology at work with SOEmote, from the looks of it. The first is the voice modulator, which uses Vivox technology. I recall trying this out at GDC a couple of years ago, and it's actually a lot of fun to play around with the different voice settings. I've always liked Vivox voice chat in EQII, because it's easy to join and change channels, it works without issue, and the players generally tend to use it over vent. Hopefully the voice changer will be a natural extension of the current voice chat, and whether players will end up using it much.

The blink of an eye

The facial recognition uses technology developed by Image Metrics, and in the demo, the Froglok character's facial expressions matched Georgeson's movements surprisingly well (I wouldn't have expected it, but SmokeJumper plays a pretty good frog!). It's hard to tell exactly how it will work, but in the demo it looks like there is a window in game that shows your face, as well as the character's face, and it reminds me of the movement recognition of the XBox Kinect. It not only matches your head movements up and down, and side to side, but even smaller expressions, like the raise of an eyebrow, the blink of an eye, or the slight curl of a lip into a smile.

The Tattered Notebook  Why SOEmote is good for gaming
This is being billed as "putting the roleplaying back into roleplaying games," but I think there's more to that, because when players use the term "roleplayers" they also assume it means "non-raiders." But how cool would it be to see all those high-quality raid videos come with some character-driven scenes that play on the anticipation of the fight, and the intensity of the battle? What about the potential for some amazing EQII machinima? And maybe, just maybe, we'll have that much less drama because we can better understand the intention behind a comment. Right now, it looks like the technology just uses facial recognition, but what about the next step of matching movement of our arms? (For those, like me, who talk with their hands, this is huge). Picture a game where all those fancy SWTOR cut-scenes are performed by us, the players, and done real time in-game. That's a powerful tool, and dare I say, innovative.

Game vs. World

Here's why everyone, from bleeding-edge, hardcore min/maxers, to the most casual, drive-by players, should be excited about SOEmote. MMOs are unusual because on one level, they're games, and on another, they're worlds. I think over the past decade, there's been a strong emphasis on the "game" part. Developers have tweaked gameplay rules and put limitations on in-game behavior to make sure everything's fair and fairly safe. But I don't think it's a coincidence that in an industry that leans heavily on metrics, that can predict where we'll stumble even before we reach the choke points, and that can parse out every single player action and behavior imaginable, we're increasingly uninspired by the games that result.

I always liked EverQuest II, and EQII raiding in particular, because of it's cerebral quality. I combed through ACT parses and loved doing the mental math that was required to figure out things AE timers, script queues, or dps checks. I timed my auto-attacks, crunched numbers to see how we could squeeze out that extra healing, better damage, or faster cures. In a sense, EQII is a lot like baseball, which is probably why I enjoy it so much.

But I'm happy that the team is working on the "quality of life" aspects of the game, like giving housing a bigger purpose in game, providing tools for players to build and publish their own dungeons, and now, the ability for everyone to express themselves. Players who pine for user-generated, sandbox content should be excited about the tools that EverQuest II has offered to players over the past couple of years. It's a change from what longtime players might be accustomed to, but we're still getting the group, raid, and tradeskill content that we've been getting for the past eight years, these new features are giving us more control over our characters and our world, and that's a refreshing change that we all could really use right now.

From the snow-capped mountains of New Halas to the mysterious waters of the Vasty Deep, Karen Bryan explores the lands of Norrath to share her tales of adventure. Armed with just a scimitar, a quill, and a dented iron stein, she reports on all the latest news from EverQuest II in her weekly column, The Tattered Notebook. You can send feedback or elven spirits to

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