I can totally run that on my Amiga

The way things are

One of EVE's unique features (along with being an awesome game on a single server) is that it can run on pretty much any computer built after 1998. The minimum spec for graphics card and CPU has always been very reasonable to say the least, so the barrier for entry into EVE has been relatively low compared to other games. Developing the client in this manner hasn't always been a given.  It requires us to downtune our graphics engine quite a bit, for one, as well as maintain the "Classic" client version of EVE along with the Premium one. That means creating two versions of each art asset we want to put into the game. It complicates build and patching processes considerably and, for the most part, it simply doesn't allow us to make EVE look as beautiful as we want. The core issues we deal with are:

 • Spending too much time and resources maintaining 2 clients

 • Due to a dual pipeline we have less time implementing performance enhancements

Where do we go from here?

Currently, EVE can be played on GeForce 2 or ATi Radeon 7000 series cards. The support of these cards was discontinued in 2002 by their manufacturers, a full year before EVE was first published. The development in graphics and graphics cards since then has been, to put it mildly, phenomenal. What we want to do is simplifying our development as well as exploit these new technologies to their full extent. The benefits of doing so are many, including:

 • Simplification of pipeline

  • Less development overhead

  • Greater output from software developers and artists

  • Less redundant testing for different engines and art assets

 • Faster turnaround on fixes

 • Ability to focus on performance improvements in one graphics engine

 • Simpler troubleshooting for bugs

 • Overall better quality of the client and better quality of service to players

Out with Classic, in with Premium Lite

Currently we have two content packs, Classic and Premium. Classic has the low barrier of entry, and Premium requires modern ShaderModel 3.0 hardware. To accommodate older PCs and those who prefer to run twenty clients of EVE while they run SETI@Home and ray trace while compressing HD movies, we will deliver what we refer to as "Premium Lite." Premium Lite will only require ShaderModel 2.0 hardware, and far less texture memory than the current Premium, ensuring good framerates on older hardware. We won't stop there - we are providing two flavors of ShaderModel 2.0 compatible shaders, currently named "lo" and "hi".  What does this mean?  It means that framerate enthusiasts can get even more performance when running under ShaderModel 2.0.  We will also allow people to select any ShaderModel below what their hardware supports - thus allowing players to trade quality for performance and vice versa.  Due to instruction limits within each ShaderModel we will have to use different techniques to render the ships but the goal is the same in every scenario: beautiful.  Now, this does sound like extra work for us and in a way it is - however, what we gain is:

1. We can use the same assets as Premium.  Admittedly people will most likely choose to run with textures that have lower resolution as well, but these will simply be downsampled (lower resolution mipmaps) from the existing Premium textures. Some textures will also be skipped entirely like, for instance, normal maps.  This means less content for us to maintain as we get rid of all the classic content. 

2. We can use the same rendering pipeline - the only fork in the road is the different ShaderModels.  This means less code for us to maintain once we sunset the classic rendering path. 

To summarize: older hardware will use the same assets as Premium - they just won't look as detailed and shiny.

The Plan

What we'd like to do is a two step approach to ensure that EVE continues to be jaw-dropping gorgeous:

Step 1: In Apocrypha, March 10th, we discontinue support for ShaderModel 1, making ShaderModel 2 (GeForce FX (5 series) or ATi R300 series cards or compatible) the minimum requirement and discontinue the "Classic client" version of EVE, replacing it with "Premium Lite"

Step 2: In the Winter Expansion 2009 we are considering discontinuing support for ShaderModel 2  and make the minimum specification ShaderModel 3(GeForce 6 class cards or ATi x1300 or compatible)

We know this will affect some players out there. What we don't know is exactly how many. We estimate that about 95% of all subscribers currently have hardware that is SM2 compatible. We further predict that in q4 this year over 97% of subscribers will have SM3 capable hardware. This means that an estimate of anywhere from 3%-5% of current subscribers would have to update their computers or graphics cards to be able to continue playing.

TO THE FORUMS!

What we want to accomplish by blogging about this and presenting you with our plan is for you to be able to voice any concerns you have. We're especially interested in hearing from those that have graphics cards that would become unsupported with this new proposal. You can get a fair indication of what ShaderModel(PixelShader) version your graphics card supports by looking at this chart (//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixel_shader). The safest way of knowing is looking up your cards specification sheet at the manufacturers website however.