The Enlightenment of EVE
At EVE Fanfest 2008 in Reykjavik, Iceland, CCP's Senior Producer Torfi Frans Olafsson showed an eager crowd the first public pre-alpha build of "Walking In Stations," the MMOG's first real out-of-spaceship content. In keeping with the tremendously player-driven philosophy of EVE, the CCP team intends for individual space stations to be shaped by the hands of the gamers rather than the dev team.
Each station has a number of "sockets," modular installations that can be rented out by players for an upkeep fee. A player who has acquired a certain blueprint can then build a facility in a socket they own - for the demo build, we were shown a bar, but other potential options include clothing stores and plastic surgery shops. Shop owners can then hire NPCs with customizable dialogue and interaction trees that would, for example, let them accept money in exchange for whiskey. Wealthier corporations and players that owned multiple installations across different stations would potentially be able to design their own missions, with one NPC giving a player an item that another NPC required for a reward.
In addition to having the ability to buy corporate headquarters and business establishments, every character will have their very own "captain's quarters" on the station. According to Olafsson, CCP wanted players to have a wealth of options to customize their quarters and the establishments they owned. One example was to have minigame tables that they could purchase and install for players and patrons to play on and wager money and in-game items.
From a technical perspective, though, the most impressive achievement was the lighting and the soft shadows cast by the player and NPCs as they moved through the environments (the animations seemed stilted and awkward, but this was a pre-alpha build, so there's easily time for that to be smoothed over). The lighting is the result of a program called Enlighten, developed by a Cambridge-based company, Geomerics. Before Olafsson started the Ambulation preview, there was a brief presentation by a Geomerics representative who discussed the use of lighting in films like Hero or Blade Runner, and how lighting could drastically change the impression and the feel of a given location.
Enlighten deals with radiosity, which is the way that moves around a room - if you shine a flashlight at a white wall, the light will bounce off the wall and reflect around the room, illuminating the space as a secondary light source. To demonstrate Enlighten, we were shown a demo of sunlight shining through a courtyard with very Moroccan influences, all generated in real-time. The demonstration continued as the presenter tweaked the lighting and the effects, changing the mood of the place on the fly. Enlighten is an incredibly impressive piece of technology that is being incorporated into "a few upcoming games," the crowd was told - though EVE would be the first.
CCP hasn't deviated much (if at all) from the original plans for Walking In Stations (read more on their concept here), and it seems to be remaining very true to the feel and style of EVE as a simulator for the 80s sci-fi movies that many of the developers grew up on, but the lighting effects are absolutely incredible, and it probably won't be long before Enlighten technology is as common in games as Havok physics is today.