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New EVE Graphical Engine E-mail
Tuesday, 18 April 2006
On a recent Dev Blog, Redundancy declared that CCP is working on a completely new client and graphical engine optimized for Windows Vista and DirectX 10. This client will seriously improve the EVE Online graphic quality and keep the game technology on line for the future years.

If you're not an EON subscriber, or you haven't received your copy yet, you may not be aware we've announced that we're working on a number of graphics upgrades to Eve, including a client with a completely new graphics engine designed for DX10 and Windows Vista. The real announcement of all of this is going to happen at E3 but we released a preview, and some pictures of the related remodelling of ships, in EON #3.

We were hoping the EON article would clear up most of the questions raised from earlier references made in interviews, but so far that doesn't really appear to be happening. If you are to take away anything from this incredibly longwinded blog, please let them be these two points:

Development of the DX10 / Vista graphics engine, is development for the future and it will not stop us from continuing to make improvements on, fixes to and support of the current graphics engine.

No one has to upgrade anything. If you can run Eve now, you will continue to be able to run Eve and enjoy all its gameplay has to offer. The current version (Eve Classic) will continue to be the preferred version for performance and stability for a long time.

Since there are no publically available graphics cards supporting the DX10 specification, it is not possible to buy a computer that is be able to run this in hardware. I wouldn't personally buy a computer for Vista gaming at the moment, because it will require another upgrade for the graphics card if you want DX10, and of course, there's always the onward march of technology making whatever you buy now cheaper over time. If your current computer is able to run Vista is somewhat academic for most people at this point.

Perhaps it's worth mentioning that Vista will come in 32bit and 64bit flavours, and will run DX9 class graphics hardware and software, but will not be able to use DX10 on its own. DX10 will be enabled with a DX10 GPU, and will be reverse compatible with DX9 games (like Eve Classic) through emulation. XP will not support DX10.

I've recently been working on reducing the amount of lag caused by warp-in (on all clients). We determined that a significant factor in the lag created when warping into something like a fleet battle was the disk access for loading the ships. The solution I've been working on is to finally add preloading in warp and threaded disk IO to Eve. The changes required to do this mean many server and client modules have been altered or extended slightly, which makes it a higher risk change, and means that it's likely to be slated for the Kali release to ensure it gets adequate testing.

Indeed, most of the work currently is going into making the DX9 Trinity engine support new graphics features that will also be part of the DX10 engine. These features will be optional where they place requirements on hardware above our current requirements. The key distinction being that the current engine is being extended with optional features, while the DX10 version will be a 'new' engine designed to take full advantage of the DX10 spec.

DX10 is looking to be a nice specification that adds a lot of useful features, and yes, for the best visual experience in Eve, you'll probably need to eventually use Vista. A lack of the DX9 caps in DX10 allows us to focus on taking advantage of the features, rather than planning everything with the requirement for fallback options and complicated multiple render paths to cater for weird hardware capabilities – it’s a little like developing for a console: you know what you’ve got to work with. One of the nice things about DX10 is that it really focuses on enabling you to batch together draw calls to the GPU to reduce the number you need to perform, because each of them has a significant CPU overhead. This overhead has been a major problem with the current version of Trinity.

If you’d like to know what new features are going to be ported back, it’s difficult to say. Among other things, we’re very likely going to have to create completely different structures for our engine objects for DX10 due to the way that the current Trinity engine is so intertwined with the fixed pipeline, which in turn is very likely going to require updated content files (DX10 completely discards the fixed function pipeline in favour of an entirely programmable pipeline). It’s going to get a little complicated to support and debug problems with many different versions of content files and code paths to cover all the possibilities, this is the one big reason for the fairly strong delineation between the engines.

Strong candidates that have been mentioned are the new normal mapped ships, HDR and self shadowing (PCF, for those who’d like to know). As I mentioned at FanFest05, I’d also really want to get anything that can offer a performance boost without overcomplicating the engine into the original Trinity. I would hope candidates for that sort of thing might be trails and turrets. Conceivably, some updated environmental features like vertex and pixel shaded planets may be possible. So, if everything goes the way we’d hope, the original Trinity engine will look a lot better for those with the hardware to take advantage of these features.
These features are what we WANT, but are subject to change!

The rewrite that we're doing for DX10 is a huge shift in the basic architecture of the engine, and we need a solid platform to do it on. The current Trinity can and will be optimized and extended, but as a 5 year old engine it's reaching the end of its lifespan. After all, there is a limit to what you can do with an engine fundamentally plugged into DX8 level functionality. Looking forward, we need an engine that we can push the envelope with for the next 6 or so years, and it needs to be built around the key features of where the technology is going. As far as the features that we'll be putting in exclusively for Eve Vista, it's far too early to tell.

I think it’s also important to point out that while we have every intention of building an amazing next generation engine that we want to take advantage of in Eve, we don’t have any plans to segregate gameplay content in Eve by your OS or hardware capabilities. 'Classic Eve' might not look as good, but unless you only play for graphical glitz, you’ll be able to enjoy it with everyone else. You shouldn't feel that you're a "second class citizen" just because you can't take advantage of our preparation for the future yet. The majority of our customers will be using the DX9 client for quite a while, and we fully intend to continue to support you to the best of our ability. Since the platform, drivers and our new engine will all be immature when we release the new engine, you can expect that there are likely to be many issues that we're going to have to work through in the early days before most people migrate.

I know that some people who don't have EON subscriptions are desperate to get their hands on some new images. New images will of course be released over time in other places, so it's just a matter of holding on.

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