Tuesday, 22 May 2012

EVE Online: So Beautiful, I Can't See It



[WARNING: This is a rant. It's a constructive, well-meaning and good-natured rant, but a rant nonetheless. I have perhaps sullied the purity of the rant with this qualifier but I am English, so erm... sorry about that.  Long-time Freebooted readers may be aware it is not the first time I have ranted about this subject, but just to make sure CCP realise I haven't forgotten - even if they have, I am going for round three of my crusade to get better camera functionality in EVE Online. Rounds one and two were Fanfest Flashback: The Spectacle of Combat (April 2011) and BB30: EVE Online Director Mode (Nov 2011).]


I'm sure you will agree with me that EVE is visually stunning.

The crisp, realistic character creator, the hypnotic space environments, the slick spaceship designs and the stark, breathtaking lighting effects makes EVE a majestic and inspirational visual experience. With the UI removed (CTRL + F9), almost any screenshot taken on the highest graphics settings will result in something worthy of your desktop wallpaper if not a professional movie poster. CCP's Art Department is truly world class.

So why is it so hard to enjoy EVE visually whilst actually playing it?

Sight-seeing tours aside, EVE's client does not make it easy to admire the great work that CCP's talented artists have provided for us to enjoy. As a game primarily marketed on it's spaceship combat, what is the point of creating searing weapon blasts, impressive missile vapour trails and visceral explosions if most of the visual impact is lost because the combatant is zoomed right out or staring at his ship filling the screen? Seriously, why bother? CCP may as well just dump the visual window-dressing altogether and run EVE purely as a spreadsheet with live text updates.

Alternatively, they could provide us with a better means of viewing the action. I propose a customisable, intelligent and versatile toolset that would enable casual players, serious business PvPers and armchair directors to all get the best out of EVE's visual feast.

The Current Toolset

Let's look at the tools currently available to assist our viewing pleasure. I do this as both an assist to those who may not know about them and to prevent the inevitable torrent of unsolicited advice that will point out that there are "advanced camera" tools.

Camera Drones are the lore-based explanation for the default third-person viewing perspective of your ship in space. In game mechanic terms, it's a simple, intuitive means of looking at your ship by using the mouse. By default, the focus is always your own ship. Holding down the left mouse button allows you to pan around in an orbital movement and you can zoom in and out with the mouse wheel (or L+R mouse buttons). Holding down the right mouse button and panning allows you to "free look", but the camera rubber-bands back to the point of focus (ie. your ship) as soon as you release the button.

A Ferox fitted with a mushroom launcher?
Whilst fine for admiring your ship, this is fairly limited for viewing how it interacts with the environment. The view of other objects in space is obstructed by your own ship and concessions must be made to view even static objects (moving objects I'll cover later). You must either zoom out so you can no longer see your ship, rotate the view so the object occupies a peripheral area of the screen or change the focus of your camera away from your ship's position. To an extent this can be mitigated by the Camera Center slider in the Escape button menu, which enables you to slide the camera focus along the X axis.

The Look At option (found in the right-click context menu or from the Selected Item button bar) allows the point of focus to be changed to (almost) any object within 100 kilometres of the player's ship, but this suffers from the same limitations as viewing your own ship.

The Advanced Camera Menu (enabled via a tick box selection in the "Display and Graphics" tab of the Escape button menu) goes a small way toward appeasing the desire for better camera functionality and its existence at least suggests that CCP are aware of the need. However, I feel describing this additional functionality as "advanced" is stretching the truth a little.

By enabling this function, the options to "set as parent" and "set as interest" appear in the right-click context menu. Much like the "Look At" function, setting an object as the parent makes that object the anchor for your camera drone location. However, selecting another object as the interest means that whilst your movement controls (LMB to orbit, mouse-wheel to zoom) behave in relation to the parent, your point of view will remain focused on the object of Interest. This theoretically enables fly-by and tracking shots to be achieved, but the controls are clumsy and limited. Annoyingly, a passive 360-degree tracking rotation is not possible as the camera rubber-bands awkwardly on every rotation. Additionally, this mode does not keep both the parent and the interest objects in shot, instead pivoting on the spot to focus solely on the focus of interest.

The frenetic pace of ship-to-ship combat means that the player is generally too busy to manually manage his camera, so he is very unlikely to use the advanced camera menu even if that were to give him an entertaining view of the action (which it wouldn't). The best he can probably manage is some frantic and repeated manual panning in an attempt to keep his target in view, but most likely he would just zoom out to watch the action from a distance that renders the graphical excellence invisible.

Custom Camera Tool Wishlist

The existing camera tools are basic, but they get the job done - assuming the job is to provide wallpaper screenshots and to perpetuate the fallacy that EVE is just spreadsheets in space. But there is a glimmer of hope; the current toolset at least provides a foundation on which to build a greatly improved camera system.

What follows are some simple concepts which would improve the visual experience.

  • AXIS SLIDERS
EXISTING LIMITATION: Player ship obstructing field of view.

PROPOSED SOLUTION: To complement the existing X-axis slider, provide a Y-axis slider to allow the focus to be moved to the bottom (or top) of the screen. Ideally allow these sliders to be accessible via the NEOCOM rather than the ESC menu.

BENEFIT: The player would have greater control over the use of screen real estate.

EXAMPLE MOCK-UP: Fixed Tailplane View

  • VIEW LOCK
EXISTING LIMITATION: Presently, the camera points in a cardinal direction unrelated to the ship. If the focal ship is flying directly away from the camera toward an object in view but then changes direction, the camera direction remains the same, meaning the object being approached may very likely be out of shot.

PROPOSED SOLUTION: Allow the parameters of the camera direction to be user-selected. For example, a radio button NEOCOM menu with the following View Lock options:
  • Cardinal (as it presently is).
  • Vanishing Point (the direction the focus ship is moving/pointing)
  • Custom (a number of slots allowing user-defined camera views to be stored).
  • "Keep interest focus in view" toggle. 
N.B: This is essentially a refined version of the existing Advanced Camera Menu, with the additional ability "set interest" on the direction of travel (vanishing point) and the ability to keep the player ship in view irrespective of camera rotation.

BENEFIT: This would enable the camera to automatically 'face forward' when the ship is travelling and provide a more connected experience with the player ship. Custom camera direction would enable user-defined views, for example used in conjunction with the Axis Slider (see above) would allow for the classic tailplane view.

EXAMPLE MOCK-UP: Fixed Forward View (Naga)

EXAMPLE MOCK-UP: Focus on Hardpoints and Target

  • INTELLIGENT FOCUS
EXISTING LIMITATION: The need for manual panning and zooming to maintain desired view creating a disjointed and disorientating viewing experience.

PROPOSED SOLUTION: Allow the outer edges of the "object" being viewed to be user-defined. The camera will automatically zoom to keep the "object" on screen. A menu would provide the following options:
  • Self
  • My Target (Primary)
  • My Targets (All)
  • All Aggressors
  • Squad
  • Wing
  • Fleet
  • Broadcast Target
  • All Ships on Grid
  • Vanishing Point
Selection of one or more of these options would define the actors to remain on screen within a user-defined optimal viewing area (an invisible bounding box to work within the chosen UI layout) and the Intelligent Focus system would auto-zoom appropriately until the settings are changed or switched off (ie. doesn't reset on session change).

BENEFIT: This would give the player a much improved viewing experience in a multitude of scenarios. In 1v1 combat it would make optimal use of the screen space, with combatants spiralling around each other exchanging fire, giving the viewer a much more connected combat experience. In fleet or other mass ship environments it would optimise the appreciation of scale and the interaction between groups. All in all it would create a more dynamic and cinematic viewing experience passively.

Less of this: "Where the hell is that coming from?"
More of this: "Oh, there you are."
And this: "Okay, you can stop now - they get the idea."
Fleet ops would be more spectacular for pilots...
... so only FCs and tactical dudes have to put up with this.
[It's presently pretty hard to get a meaningful mid-battle shot, so the above example doesn't quite get the point over, but you get the idea. Most of the above screenshots have been staged and would not appear naturally without lots of manual camera-work.]

In Conclusion

I would also suggest a picture-in-picture function for targets, which would provide another way of enjoying ship models in combat (as well as providing tactical info like fittings and direction), but judging by CCP T0rfiFrans' Fanfest presentation homage to my flawless Photoshop work in last year's EVE Online: Director Mode post, that one is already somewhere in the CCP hive-mind.

Freebooted 2011

CCP @ Fanfest 2012, You're welcome Torfi ;)

The key with all the suggested camera tool refinements above is that they should be passive and preset, allowing the action to flow. Nobody is going to have time to be playing Spielberg mid-battle, the game engine should be doing that for us. The EVE player viewing experience would then be improved immensely, allowing the glorious visual labours of CCP's Art Department to be suitably framed as the works of art that they are.

Nobody goes to the Louvre and is forced to stand half a mile from the exhibits and spin around. Please CCP, we shouldn't have to choose between enjoying the view and playing the game. Don't make us do it any longer.

If the decision-makers need further incentive, think of the improvement in quality (and quantity) of output from the vibrant player video scene.

Improved camera tools = more free marketing + more happy players = more subscriptions.

It's a no-brainer.

[If you agree with the sentiments of this post, please support the related forum post in the official EVE Online Features and Ideas Discussion Forum]

7 comments:

  1. Right there with you, Stan. I'd love to have the ability for "Parent + Interest" camera view to move the camera where required to keep the Parent and Interest as a foreground/background pair with both objects on screen at the same time. Just that simple change would make life much less spreadsheety for me.

    What's the point of all the wonderful special effects if enjoying them is a pain in the arse?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Exactly. Also, the view mode should occur automatically. No-one is going to fart about with the parent/interest menu mid-battle and each time there's a new target. It shouldn't be beyond the realms of possibility to get the client to do it for us.

    ReplyDelete
  3. THIS. SO many times THIS.
    CCP, Please to make this happen.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes, yes.. and absolutely yes.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Better camera definitely needed ! I can see the community producing extremely well designed clips if given the right tools.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'd absolutely love to see your suggestion in-game. It's true that EVE loses much in the pictures sense (I'm a screenshooter). The mobile camera we have now (the one toggled by pressing C) is fine, but we could use many more things.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "[...]we shouldn't have to choose between enjoying the view and playing the game."
    Amen.

    ReplyDelete

Lay it on me.