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Monday, March 24, 2014

Landmark Voxel Creations


Not sure if you knew about this, but Everquest Next Landmark entered Alpha about one month ago. During that month players were introduced for the first time to the voxel world and tools we have jointly developed with Sony Online Entertainment.

We still have a lot of work to do. The game just now entered Beta. Still I am marveled by the incredible creations made by the players in such a short time and with such early versions of the tools.

Have a look:


I do not know about you, but it seems to me player-generated-content does come close to what game studios can do. Hopefully very soon we will be able to completely blur that line.

Probably the biggest surprise was to see all the emergent techniques devised by the players. We knew our voxels were able to encode all sort of funny things, however the specifics of how they could be achieved was a purely player-driven development. Players even had to name these things, so they gave us "microvoxels", "antivoxels", "zero-volume voxels" and other similar things that actually make a big difference on how you can create in the game.

Someone once told me the best software you can write is one that won't have any users. You can relax and have a life. Users (or players in this case) are that reality check developers secretly fear so much. Now I realize this software cannot exist in isolation from the builder community. Thanks to our players we continue to learn and understand about all the emerging properties of the platform we have created.

Keep up the amazing work guys!

46 comments:

  1. I hope we see more of these player driven games. Next we need a game where players can copy/paste their own code! imagine the potential.

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    1. check out project spark for something along those lines

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    2. I enjoyed Project Spark. The brain editor was a bit over my head, but loved trying out the projects made by others.

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  2. It is a pleasure testing your voxel environment, keep up the great work.

    Now we want water, lol

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  3. Landmark will have some form of scripting.

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  4. These are amazing, but Landmark feels like prison compared to games like Minecraft or Blockscape.

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    1. Interesting point of view, can you elaborate?

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    2. Is it the fact that build permissions only work in a tiny designated plot?

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    3. From what I've seen you just have a small place to build in. In Minecraft the whole world belongs to you. I'm not sure what the depth limit is, but I'm sure it's not what it should be a few years after Minecraft: no hard limit, just a "Little Prince"- like small planet. Character customization also doesn't look so hot. I'm not sure if they are planning a survival mode, but these magic items are not good for a survival game, and without survival it will be boring - people are survival machines.

      These are my impressions based on a few videos.

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    4. One of the videos I have seen showed a comparison for the plot/world size compared to real world objects. The plots are about the size of the statue of liberty, plus you will soon be able to add additional connected plots and manually assign unique write permissions to each plot.

      That said, the plots are a necessary evil. Have you ever been to a "popular" open public minecraft server with no plot protections? They are a mess, and anything you build will only be destroyed, usually before you even finish building it.

      The alternative is to make landmark a single player experience, disconnected from the online community. SOE is trying to generate content, and offline mode would limit the amount of content they get.

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    5. Even with claim protection a lot of buffer space goes to prevent griefing. This is so your neighbors could still be assholes but they would not affect your claim that much. Whatever they build will be distant enough.

      I hope people can form communities where they begin to trust each other. That would allow them to expand their claims and create densely built areas. There was a 36 claim player city at the end of the alpha. It was precisely orchestrated.

      But yes, knowing there is this box limiting you is a funny feeling. Maybe that is the price you pay for building in the company of strangers.

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    6. About the world size : currently, the world is a limited size square area. Later in the beta, is the world will be bigger, with all biomes included in one area?

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    7. No idea about this. Also if I knew, I could not tell you :)

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    8. World size :

      "Yeah. It should have said 'islands'. The term 'continents' was an internal name we scrapped a while ago. Nobody told mktg? :)"

      "so these are as big as the landmasses get?"

      "For now. We're still developing."

      from Dave Georgeson's twitter

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    9. It doesn't cost anything to try :)
      Personally, I hope they will join biomes and give bigger zones.
      I enjoyed the alpha, but small area gives the feeling to play in a theme park and not in a living world with a strong background story.
      But maybe technically (amount of datas, frame rate..) it's unrealistic.

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  5. Sooo, what are "microvoxels", "antivoxels" and "zero-volume voxels"?

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    1. There's a write-up at the wiki...
      http://landmark.wikia.com/wiki/Voxel

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  6. its been really cool seeing how everquest landmark has turned out. its amazing to see where this engine has came from and where it is today

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  8. I've signed up for the settler's pack - looking forward to getting my greasy paws on the building tools!

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  9. I just read this interesting paper that seemed like it could apply to what you are doing.
    http://sing.stanford.edu/pubs/sirikata-atc12.pdf
    The most interesting idea I gleaned from it was rendering things based on the area of the screen that they take up instead of distance.

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    1. That is a terrific idea no need to use high density textures on polys that are perpendicular to the camera.

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    2. Miguel Cepero : is there an interactive demo that we could look at, perhaps of a random world? Those videos were tantalizing (especially the one where you walk downwards through a mountain pass), but it would be nice to have a demo. I think that would also induce more developers to license the engine.

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    3. If you want to demo his engine, perhaps you should get into the landmark closed beta.

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  10. This to me feels like a company getting its design work done by a community it's charging to do the work, something feels very wrong about this model, but hey it's a classic example of the little guy being the one to "benefit" from a raw deal in the name of entertainment.

    They should not be charging for access to this IMO as it's just a content gathering for EQ Next which will likely already be rediculously priced and milked for years to come, a neat way to get a free design team if you ask me.

    Still, I bet you got a good deal on all this hey Miguel, no regards for all those people getting robbed by a big corp ... again!

    And you claim you care about the little guy / indie devs ... I'll believe it when this toolset is out there at a reasonable price that indie devs can take advantage of.

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    1. Miguel isn't making EQ Next or Landmark. He made the engine those games are based off of.

      Further, landmark will be a free game. They are only charging people if they want early closed alpha/beta access. If you wait a month or two, you too can play landmark for free.

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    2. Who's getting robbed?

      SOE is not getting design work done by a community. Yes, they have advertised some player creations may be taken from the player sandbox (Landmark) and used in the non-sandbox game (Next). But this is really to boost the community. If you think SOE is doing all this just to get some free content for their EQ Next game you got this backwards.

      For the rest (which will be 99.999% of the creations) the community is designing for the community. This is actually very expensive and complex to run. Think of YouTube, it took a long time before it could turn a profit.

      Also what's up with the hate for AAA studios? They bleed too. The people who make these games are every bit as motivated and invested in the games they create as indies are. Any programmer or artist working on a AAA title also lives under constant uncertainty, as the stakes are much higher, the layoffs are always around the corner. It is a high risk industry for pretty much everyone involved, we should give all game-makers a break.

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    3. You really can't see it? They take the toolset used to create the content and make it available in a "free" game you have to pay to get access to (that's not free) ... then they by their own admission state they plan to use your creation in populating the world of EQ Next which again they will be charging monthly access fee's for.

      So you pay to create the content, then pay to walk around it and even that assumes it makes it as "free" content in the EQ Next released world, if it doesn't they plan to put that content on their store where they take a cut of the money from any sale thus making even more money from your creation.

      Seems a little "apple" to me ... money to get in, money to stay in, money if you do anything, money if you do nothing ... i hate models like this.

      AAA game studios don't have it that hard, it's only when they jump in bed with the likes of EA who are just in it for the money that I really object normally but this is a blatant money grab despite the new tech.

      That said, i'll probably be a mug like every other gamer out there and get in on this before long as it looks like one of the most innovative games i've seen in a long time.

      It's just a shame this kind of tech is so hard to get hold of even if you have the money, and that if anything is my biggest gripe over AAA studios ... they get all the perks! (yeh it's tough being a AAA studio ... pffft)

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    4. Again you are overestimating by x10000 how much content will migrate from Landmark to Next. It would be cheaper just to hire a few professional artists to create this content than to host hundreds of thousands of amateurs to produce the few gems that align with the quality standards and lore of Next.

      This is players entertaining other players. How much you need to pay to participate in the entertainment is between you and your host. They could make it entirely free or they could demand your firstborn son, but nobody is forcing you to participate.

      Indies will catch up to use of this tech. Right now it is still difficult to pull off for any project. This is a fringe technology so even as an adopter you need a solid investment. When indies do catch up, you will also see all sort of monetization schemes. In fact the idea of charging for alphas/beta access started with indies, for a lot of good reasons. There is no moral high ground in being either indie or AAA, it is all what you do.

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    5. cheaper to hire? They are charging people to access the platform ... surely they are making money from this?
      I don't think this is a cost it looks more like a revenue stream. Yes the players are essentially paying for access to the mmo server infrastructure and that costs to run so from that point of view it makes sense to charge but they are all about this "create content for next" in their marketing so either I misunderstand that or you misunderstand what I am saying ... Since most of the world is procedurally generated where do their designers come in to the creation of the world other than to place a few assets already created by a paying community and a few procedural templates generated by your toolset?

      The thing I don't get about Next is that over time there's going to be a ton of holes all over the place and the world will look ugly, are they planning to have the world "regenerate over time" or something? As a player should I expect to see blocks of terrain just pop up in front of me .. that would be odd.

      As for moral high ground ... I don't have an opinion on that other than to say that I no longer buy any product that EA has got involved with providing servers for after they told me my 150mb/s broadband line wasn't fast enough to handle several of their games when I complained their servers were dropping my connections ... not had this problem with anyone else only EA.

      AAA studios are not really about the games for the most part, look at the titles they release these days they are all console ports to pc these days that tells me 2 things ... 1 it's about risk free title releases and 2 it's about where they can make the most money.

      My impression (I don't feel strongly about it, it's just the impression I get from modern game titles) ...
      At no point do AAA studios even consider innovation these days or do something truely unique nor do they take advantage of the power of modern pc's as they favour the slower outdated tech that console vendors are flogging in favour of that bigge pay cheque at the end of the project.

      This is at least in part where Indie devs add value to the industry and why AAA studios have the fear that things will always go pear shaped because at any point some indie could show off something truely revolutionary and they would do it on a poor budget putting them to shame.

      With EQ Next i'm curious but this is a AAA production and is showing some innovation, but I've heard similar claims before and many have fallen way short ... only time will tell !!!

      Like you say though this is an emergent tech too so there is a fair amount of risk here again very odd for AAA studios so this could be huge and if it is no doubt they will charge through the nose for it.

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    6. Dude, Everquest Next will be 100% free, a quote from the website:

      "EverQuest Next will join our family of free-to-play games."

      Landmark is an early access thing, the actual game will be free, yet you claim without sources that it'll have a monthly fee....

      The world is procedurally generated as far as I know, yes, and they will be using a select few of the creations made by players, which is not "stealing" as you may call it, I'd bet lots of people would pay money to get their building in the game, and they'll be lucky to have their creation picked.

      So basically, the "make content for Next" thing is to attract players, because most people WANT their creations in the game.

      This pretty much explains why AAA don't tend to innovate:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cxhs-GLE29Q

      Supporting slower and outdated tech is because people still use it, and they want as many people as possible playing their game and giving it a good name, because in the end it's better for them, and better for the player.

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    7. Ok i stand corrected on EQ Next, last I heard it was going to be pay monthly which i'm sure I saw their CEO mention at some tech event on youtube. If that's the case i'm definitely in!

      When I say "innovation" i don't take the examples you show in that video i mean true innovation ... your examples are "more mario just in 3d" that's not innovation, they still gave out the same game IMO.

      When I say innovation I mean the next "mario" or "sonic" or "zelda" and then do something with it.
      Blizzard had the right idea with diablo and the lore but failed to make something new and last.
      They then did the complete opposite with WoW so why not pull both teams together and get them to invent something new?

      Yes it's clear that 23 will still sell but my thinking here is that its partly due to lack of competition, there are no other options so gamers buy what's there, the best of what's there ... just because game devs get a sale it doesn't mean they have a AAA formula that can't die it just means gamers consider their offering the best of the crap on sale at that time.

      Again, I think you proved my point, the focus is more on money and a brand than innovation ... maybe you consider the reason to be that a brand sells which I get but so does sex and you don't see games full of porn all over your local game retailers shelves do you?

      Consider sales of any popular porn sites subscriptions and compare that to the top games and I think you might start to see my point ...

      All i'm saying is ... isn't it time someone stepped up like nintendo, sega, and even tetris achieved back in the 90's by doing something different!

      Procedural generation, and the ability to continuously evolve the shape of a game world IMO is 1 sign of true innovation, but I think the reason we haven't seen that until now is the lack of hardware power to achieve this on such a scale so if EQ Next delivers on that I would even consider a moderate monthly sub a reasonable fee given their achievement.

      Maybe I got some details wrong, fair enough, but I still want to see support for pushing whatever hardware you might have as well as a "basic get it running" codebase.

      I hae to admit, reading back through my previous posts I agree I sound a bit overkill on the complaining but I also have some interesting points about AAA game studios, it's their job to find and provide this type of innovation as standard to the gaming industry so that that the indie dev studios can follow, not the other way around.

      I don't look for Joe Bloggs when i'm after a new OS I go for something well known like linux, or windows, because a big name is something I can trust to do it right and lately "right" is just "make more from this brand"!
      Sure it sells, but it's not what the industry wants.

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    8. You should check out the reveal of EQ Next and EQ Next Landmark from August, 2013 in Las Vegas. Particularly watch the part they refer to as the 4 holy grails. There is finally some potential innovation planned in the MMORPG space. I have not really found any MMORPGs (perhaps Eve) that I spent a lot of time in and enjoyed the game. I liked The Secret World for its environment and story, though the mechanics and game play were not innovative. EQ Next if they pull off those "holy grails" will indeed finally be something innovative and might address a number of the things I like about MMORPGs up to this point. The videos are on youtube if you search for EQ Next and Holy Grail. Or you can just watch the entire reveal which is more than an hour.

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    9. I meant to say "might address a number of things I dislike about MMORPGs up to this point". Not LIKE.

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  11. Your expectations are a little out of line. 95% of the time, innovation comes from the little guy. Titles like mario, zelda, and halo didn't originate in AAA studios. They are what turned much smaller companies into AAA companies. The reason why AAA studios don't innovate is because they are too large. It takes a large company far longer to iterate through the development cycle, and with investors involved it is almost impossible to drop ip that is stale or already developed.
    Smaller groups of people can iterate at a far faster rate and there are no investors telling them to keep pumping out sequels.

    Further, it is my understanding that eq will not be procedurally generated, it is using miguels voxels, but traditional hand crafting for content. Also, they said the world heals itself, from attack damage and that outside of plots, there will be no building in landmark, and that there might not be any building in regular eq next.

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    1. I thought all of EQ was procedurally generated ... at least to begin with, then the idea was to manipulate it through these big story based events that can last months that forever change the world (the power of voxels, gotta love 'em).

      I don't think i'm 95% off, my main point from the start was simply that AAA titles make decisions based on money not what makes a good game and I think that argument still stands.
      I understand that there are factors that make this harder for larger companies but in any industry the market leaders (the big guys) are usually the "standard setters" and I still can't see that not being the case in gaming.
      The problem is that these companies care more about their wallets "most of the time" than they do the titles they release which is why I feel that the standard of games that people will accept is very low compared to what is achievable on todays hardware.

      I still haven't seen anything that suggests otherwise.
      Yes its a crude view of the industry but its a reality we all face.

      Oh and I disagree about iteration speeds, that comes down to team structuring which can be done in a way that produces fast iterations no matter the size of the company.

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    2. Being a standard setter has absolutely nothing to do with innovation. If anything it's the polar opposite.

      I shall give some examples, look at a company like dyson. For yeaars everyone was using bagged vacuums. Dyson worked by himself iterated countless times and managed to come up with an innovative bagless cyclone design. Every single vacuum his company has made since has been based off of that initial highly iterative design stage. Yes they can now spend hundreds of millions optimizing their original designs, but those optimizations pale in comparison to the original innovation the company is founded upon.

      You are correct about company structure playing a huge influence on the amount of innovation, giant corporations like GE, and Valve actually have very small sized dev teams to help them iterate faster. It's just that they have far more teams doing more things. The goal for these companies is to hopefully snag a profitable venture for every 100 seeds they throw out there. That said, how can these companies afford to keep seeding hundreds or thousands of products? These seeds are paid for by the repeat sales of existing product lines... for GE that means some of the profit for your lightbulbs/filters/tape etc, goes toward developing new products, or for Valve, profits from steam go toward cool things like virtual reality development etc.

      This also means that the AAA companies are forced to rehash existing franchises ad nauseam. Which in turn makes people like you freak out since they are gigantic financial sink holes, because you're tired of paying/playing yet another COD/NFS/Madden/GTA etc with minimal tweaks/changes.

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    3. Exactly Robin !!! and to quote your example ... Mr Dyson only innovated once but is no longer innovating but simply spitting out the same product "a bagless vac" (more refined admittedly but still a bagless vac) but we as consumers still go out and buy a new dyson vac every few years because we know that given the other options out there we still prefer the dyson option to others because we consider it better than the rival options.

      That "was" innovation but is no longer a sign of innovation today.

      I am saying that more innovation (the bagless vac) is what gamers crave but in its absence they buy the existing "dyson bagless vac" games while they wait for the next big innovation to come out.

      To my mind big sales figures do not indicate successful product they indicate a product that is simply better than the other offerings on the shelf overall (lets call that "the dyson effect").

      Maybe i'm setting the bar too high and expecting too much but it feels to me like as a gamer I want more from those AAA houses today than I did when Half life hit the shelves and apart from a graphics quality uplift i'm not seeing that.

      This whole industry is founded on creativity and innovation so why does it feel like i'm pushing too hard to expect a little of that each "day"?

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  12. You know what game would benefit from this in incredible ways?, Monster Hunter by Capcom, I can just see the battlefield being shredded apart by large monsters....

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  13. I had my hands on Landmark (closed beta) a few days ago. I was following your blog for some time and all this EQ stuff caught my eye. This is quite an impressive piece of technology, Miguel !
    Yes, at time you feel the corners are a bit tight when you want to build something, but this is a design decision from SOE, and has nothing to do with Miguel's engine. As far as design decisions go, a MMO in this environment probably won't be as dynamic as a solo game could.
    I'd love to wander around your own procedural worlds too, Miguel. Keep up the good work :)

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  14. I wonder, do the voxels allow for normal mapping (I'm talking about bump mapping on textures, not that compression thing you did before, nice job by the way) at a reasonable performance?, or to go a step further, even Physically Based Rendering?.

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    1. Landmark is already doing that. I think Forgelight uses physically based rendering.

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  15. I am so confused. If someone could please enlighten me.

    I absolutely love the videos I have seen from Voxel Farm. Is this the same technology that we are using in Landmark? Or is this separate and its own creation? I like the capabilities of VoxelFarm. I will be following this most definitely.

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    1. For voxels, yes, it is the same technology. The SOE/Landmark team has also developed custom tools and voxel layers using it. So there are things in Landmark you will not find in Voxel Farm. For instance the new cave system is a custom voxel layer written by SOE, also some of the tools like heal and paint, the ore veins... it is a long an convoluted list.

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  16. i want an universe simulator, now!

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