Some people are fans of EverQuest II, some aren’t. It’s the game that gamers love to rip on and defend. EverCrack debuted as one of the newest and, at the time, hottest multiplayers in the field and was World of Warcraft before WOW even existed. The second rendition, EverQuest II, is currently one of the most popular games in Sony Online Entertainment’s lineup of MMOs.
Like most massives, it’s got its fair share of players who just grind and players who play for the role playing experience. Those latter, relatively rare in the MMO genre nowadays, have their own special places on EQ2 where RPG is expected of every character you meet. There is a core batch of players who congregate in those zones and on those servers unofficially designated as RPG-only.
Well, the EQ2 team would be remiss if they hadn’t noticed that. A large contingent of paying players in the game do it for the RPG. So SOE is planning to cater to them.
There are a lot of things happening in MMOs today that could be the “next level” or the “next big thing” in gaming. I’m guilty of pointing out a lot of them and speculating on how they’ll become game changers (pun intended). Just last week I pointed out the EA Games has a big deal coming with Unified Gaming. The week before that, it was User-Generated Content. I’ll admit it: in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been throwing out the “next big thing” line a lot.
But hey, in my defense, there’s a lot going on in gaming today. Both Sony and Electronic Arts seem intent on bringing hot new technology and ideas to their games.
So what’s this SOEmote thing then?
Simply the coolest thing to hit RPG since tabletop in costume. That’s what.
If you’ve played any games using Microsoft’s Kinect system, you know that the hottest thing in console gaming right now is motion sensing and body tracking. While the Kinect follows body movement with a camera, other systems like the Wii’s little wands and straps do basically the same thing without one. The trend is obvious: rather than sit and punch buttons, gaming is moving into a realm where the player gets a lot more physically involved in the game (which, psychologically, puts them a lot more mentally into it as well – something game marketers aren’t missing).
Well, what if you could use those tracking gizmos to follow an MMORPG player and have their “acting” for their toon appear in-game? That, basically, is what SOEmote does.
It’s a camera tracking system that uses facial recognition to follow the emotional expressions of the player and translate them to his or her character in-game. The picture above probably gives away how that could be. It features Executive Producer Dave Georgeson of SOE and the EverQuest team showing how the system can pick up basic emotional expressions and put them on the player’s character.
For now, it’s somewhat limited, but he says that this is largely because they haven’t perfected the graphics for display, not because the hardware isn’t capable of capturing the expressions. Georgeson told Ten Ton Hammer that the team has five or six basic expressions down and is working on adding many more.
“We’re starting with just a small portion of what we’ll eventually be able to do,” Georgeson told [Ten Ton Hammer]. “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.
Think about what that would do for role playing in-game. It would fundamentally change how RPG happens and how players interact with one another. It would do for MMOs what adding live voice chat and /emotes have done. Only at a whole new level.
The system is actually relatively simple, once it’s broken down into its component parts. It works with just about any half-decent Web camera. For now, it uses minimal bandwidth and probably would continue to do so since most of the processing is on the user’s end.
The software tracks up to 5,000 points on a human face to recognize expressions and then transmits the key points for each expression to the game, which then translates that into animation on the player’s character.
When SOE launches SOEmote later this year, they will include a list of recommended cameras. The camera must be of a resolution high enough to capture a face clearly enough for the software to work with it. No actual video is transmitted off the player’s computer, however, just data points, so security risks are low.
In the short term, it means that EverQuest Next – the as-yet-unnamed release of the EQ title coming from SOE sometime later this year or early next – will likely become the hottest property in RPG. It will, obviously, be the only game with this technology.
It won’t take long for other studios to take note, of course, and roll their own versions out over the coming years.
So in the short term, it means that EQ3 will be hugely popular amongst role players and, for a while, the curious. In the longer-term, it means that several MMOs will begin adopting the idea and it will become standard fare for any game claiming to be an RPG.
It will also totally change how games are made.
As the tech evolves, we’ll see body tracking, face-pasting (putting the player’s actual face on the toon), and more. Even actual video feed could be included in some games.
This will change many games, not just MMO and RPGs. The popular subgenres of porn gaming, virtual studios, and even some casual games with light RPG elements could add this to their repertoires.
In short, a lot of things could change.
As Georgeson said to PC Gamer: “Any game that calls itself a roleplaying game absolutely needs this feature. For other games, it’s just a really good idea that your players will want.”
I think he underestimates it.