SOE want to animate your face/voice into your avatar


SOE is adding new facial recognition tech to EverQuest 2 that lets the game track your movement and facial expressions and replicate them on your avatar in real-time. Voice chat is also built into the feature so that your character will animate naturally while you talk.

PCG have an interview with SOE’s director of development about this.

It may say something for my lack of enthusiasm that I could think of at least a zillion reasons why I might not want to do this, ranging from “I don’t have a webcam” to “what if it sees me picking my nose” or “what if my character is male and I’m not?” (The latter is presumably solvable using filters, which are mentioned in the interview.) PCG do also point out that most RPG players spend a lot of time looking at their characters’ backs rather than their faces.

Having said that, there may be something in the notion that any RPG will eventually have to come around to the idea. It’s just that MMO players are so used to using voice chat anyway outside of the game that having a lipsynch feature in game may be just a bridge too far. Not to mention wondering what the extra processing load might turn out to be.

However, it is true that a lot of human communication is passed via expressions and body language. I’m just not sure whether I prefer that CRPGs keep the communication fairly limited, its one of the things that makes them so good as escapist experiences. There was an originally a notion that your character in a virtual world was a character with a background and culture of its own (even if it wasn’t all that well detailed). The closer characters get to the players, the more that difference fades. In a way, real facial animation ™ is a kind of anti-story device. If you see someone’s character actually rolling on the floor laughing when someone tells a dick joke on vent, are you still going to think of them as a paladin of the light? Just saying.

[EQ2] In which EU players get the shaft

If you’re been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll have seen a few rants about EU players being treated differently from US players in MMOs. (And yes, this doesn’t even begin to cover some of the hassles that players outside either of these regions can have.)

SOE has pretty much taken the biscuit though, because they’ve just announced that they have inked a multi year deal to sell off the EU servers in 8 of their games to another company. When this happens, players who already have characters on US servers can keep playing them, but any new EU players will only have access to EU servers. US players though will lose any access to EU servers.

This from a company that actually got things very right in allowing any player to pick any server, while still labelling some of the servers for EU to help people pick ones in compatible timezones. So unsurprisingly, players felt that it was OK for them to make characters on any server and there are plenty of guilds on US servers with EU players (and vice versa, for people who maybe find their shifts work better with EU hours.) Clearly, people who are happily playing on US servers now do not need a company that can ensure the games “are a reflection of [their] region’s culture”.And any EU players on US servers won’t be able to recruit any of their RL friends any more.

Just to be clear, this is what EU players can expect:

We will offer a simple way for any current SOE European player to create a new account with ProSiebenSat.1 Games and to have their existing characters and game progress transferred and the value of any Station Cash in their SOE account granted to the new ProSiebenSat.1 Games account.

Under the new partnership between SOE and ProSiebenSat.1 Games, European players of the above mentioned SOE games will be able to play via ProSiebenSat.1 Games’s service and will not have access to U.S. servers.  However, existing EverQuest II players in Europe that have played on U.S. servers before the transition will be allowed to continue playing on those servers through their SOE accounts.

And this deal also covers upcoming games like Planetside 2 and the next EQ game. I think SOE may have just lost a lot of EU players. However, I think they’ve proven quite clearly in the past that they don’t mind pissing off some existing customers if they think they can attract more new ones in future.

SOE joins Sony security-breach party, legendary weapons – good or bad?, and why can’t we have more villains like Loki?


Yes, another day, another gratuitous Thor link/screenshot. (ps. I loved this film.)

Tom Hiddleston’s turn as Loki is probably one of the best things about Thor, and this is where (after Marvel et al screwed up Doctor Doom in the Fantastic 4 films) we finally get to see a proper charismatic personal nemesis with some emotional depth and an agenda of their own in action as a supervillain. He’s also remarkably sympathetic even when at his most evil.

And this makes me wonder whether the next step after personal companions in MMOs will be the personal nemesis. Champions Online did make use of this idea but I was never able to figure out whether they’d actually managed to implement villains you’d love to hate as opposed to just recurring (and annoying) NPCs.

It also reminded me of why WoW just wasn’t ever going to be the same after Arthas died in Wrath. Maybe he was never going to quite be a /personal/ nemesis but he hit the right notes of being personal to many characters backgrounds (definitely so if you played forsaken like me), emotionally flawed, occasionally sympathetic if you rolled that way, etc. He was Warcraft’s Loki and no enormous dragon can replace that, however badass.

On another (but related) note, I saw a mage in Rift with a helm that looks just like Loki’s in the film, gonzo horns and all. It must be mine.

Another WoW expansion, another legendary weapon

One of the new parts of upcoming patch 4.2 is a new legendary weapon in Warcraft. If you are one of the two readers who doesn’t know, legendaries have become part of the WoW scene since vanilla, are class/ role specific and are always associated in part with raid achievements.

This time around the legendary is a caster staff which in addition to having good stats, will also let the user turn into a blue dragon (a nice perk). And of course, although it takes a whole guild to achieve a legendary, only one person can wield it.

This is also the first time that a 10 man raid will have been able to complete a legendary item. And with the increasing emphasis on guild achievements and rewards (your guild mates get a new non-combat pet when the legendary is completed) I wonder how many people are re-evaluating how well the group rewards compare to the individual rewards.

More and more the legendary is looking less like a perk for the raid team and more like a reward for being able to persuade 9 saps into helping you get a neato item. It’s a very different landscape from the time when helping your tank put together a Thunderfury would actively and clearly be a boon to your entire raid effort for the rest of the expansion. It will be interesting to see how much of the legendary can theoretically be put together solo, assuming access to PUG raids.

Having said that, it sounds as though there’s plenty of cool lore behind the legendary quest/s which hopefully the rest of the team should be able to experience also. Obviously only raid teams which have cleared the whole of the first tier content are invited, so that excludes the majority of players.

Bad luck, SOE players/ subscribers

Just in case anyone thought that SOE players (eg. EQ2. Vanguard, Free Realms, PotBS) had dodged the Sony information leaking bullet following the PSN disaster, think again.

All the SOE/Station sites were taken down for a while over the weekend and then returned with a security notice:

We are today advising you that the personal information you provided us in connection with your SOE account may have been stolen in a cyber-attack. Stolen information includes, to the extent you provided it to us, the following: name, address (city, state, zip, country), email address, gender, birthdate, phone number, login name and hashed password.”

I’d change my credit card also.

MMO Rumours: New version of Ultima Online? SOE closing studios?

A couple of fairly major rumours have been doing the rounds over the last day or so.

1. Based on the fact that EA is recruiting one (1) MMO programmer for an unannounced project, there’s a rumour that they’re planning a remake/ sequel to Ultima Online. If it’s true and sticks with the strong worldbuilding focus of the original game, this could be very interesting indeed.

But chances are that any updates will neuter whatever made UO fascinating to players at the time.

And incidentally if you want to try the original Ultima Online, there’s a 14 day free trial. I would also like to give Mythic props because this is the first official newbie guide I’ve seen that offers advice on how to choose a shard/server.

2. And the other, less happy rumour is that Sony Online Entertainment is closing studios and laying off a third (!) of their staff. That’s a lot of staff. Wish them all well if it’s true.

Thought of the Day: What should you expect from an SOE sub?

The big MMO launch this week was DC Universe Online, now available on both PC and PS3 (anyone tried the console version?). Unsubject posts a thoughtful look at some of the plus and minus points of the launch.

Intriguingly, in an interview with Eurogamer (which is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the game who wants to know more about it), John Smedley commented with respect to subscriptions:

“Just like the PC gamers, once they see the amount and level of content they’re getting compared to a normal game with bits and pieces of DLC, they’re going appreciate this a lot more.”

So while the rest of the MMO industry is following a trend of PC games morphing towards F2P payment models, SOE is trying to persuade console gamers that subscriptions are best.  Which is fine, but I think that claiming that console gamers should learn from what PC gamers want may be the wrong argument for that model.

And as for:

The monthly subscription fee means players can expect a lot of new content from us. And I say a lot — I really mean that. This is something that we feel obligated to the players, because they are paying monthly sub fee

… I wonder how players of SOEs other subscription games feel about that.