Odd man out

The last time I blogged, I was right in the middle of the E3 crunch addressing concerns about the Vista client. This time, I'm hoping I can hit on some more fun topics without causing a scandal.

One thing we noticed is that people have been wondering where all the Minmatar ships have gone; They were curiously absent from the ships shown at E3, but the reason isn't that all devs like Amarr best. The graphics department at CCP has the practice of assigning artists to a single race, which allows them to develop and express their own style consistently in the intepretation of the concept art that Asgeir produces - Nag (who does the new Minmatar ships) has been busy on other things, like making awesome paintings, whereas Pong (who works on Amarr) tends to focus on modelling and the in-game engine (doing all the stuff required after the ship is modelled, effects and the sort). The company to whom we outsource the remodelling of the older ships has turned in some Minmatar ships, but they were ones that require transparency, which was an extra complication we were more comfortable avoiding for E3.

This brings us to the state of the New Stuff (TM). The stuff shown at E3 was very much proof of concept, and we took a number of evil shortcuts that will haunt us until we rid ourselves of them to reclaim our souls and the respect of our fellow programmers. It didn't (for example) use an HDR render target or incorporate any post processing effects, nor was any of the content other than the ships ported to use any new technology. I'm currently going through our primitive graphics objects and architecture looking for stuff that we need to redesign completely / change / fix / add, having spent last week helping working on Jessica (which is the replacement to our in-house Jennifer authoring tool).

While we're in the technical design stages, I get to write crazy things about wanting to completely rewrite the turret system and do stuff like make turret animations miss. Things like that can often sound really easy, but require a lot of work due to the way the systems have been built if you don't want things to grind to a halt. On the plus side, once you decide something needs rewriting anyway, you might as well look at what other things you can enable that have been sitting on a wishlist on a beer mat in the offices. Incidentally, we've now got 4 people working on Trinity now, which is 4 times the number we had around last year - this translates to at least 4 times the beermats for us to scribble crazy ideas on (when you figure that it's easier to have a beer drinking party with more people), the most recent of which involved Navier-Stokes equations (possibly from observing beer while restocking beermats).

I thought it might be nice to show you shots of the remodelling process in progress, rather than ingame screenshots. Consequently, I've stolen some untextured renders of the high polygon models from the desk of Caiman, who's overseeing the whole thing. These models (~2+ million polygons) are processed in Maya to produce normal maps for the low polygon (averaging around ~5k polys for cruisers) ingame version that retains much of the detail. They also run them through ambient occlusion to add depth to the diffuse and specular maps. We're perturbing the cubemap reflection lookup on a per-pixel basis using the normal map at the moment, which most people don't even try (I don't know if that'll make it in to the final version, but it does look darn good when you see it up close and in motion).

Thumbnail link to image:

Completely incidentally, I did some digging into the infamous "return to dronebay" bug that drives everyone up the wall, and set up a script to reproduce it easily in order to help the people responsible quickly test changes for it. As a result, there's a change that's gone into testing that we hope resolves the issue, so cross your fingers for QA to sign off on it.