EVE Online: PhysX & DirectX 11 Tessellation Effects Demonstrated

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EVE Online commands a loyal following, and each year the space-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game’s biggest fans assemble in Iceland to attend Fanfest, an event that culminates with a live demonstration of the innovations and additions players can look forward to.

During this year’s keynote, Tony Tamasi, NVIDIA’s Senior Vice President of Content & Technology, took to the stage of one of Europe’s largest opera houses to reveal a special EVE Online tech demo. Developed by NVIDIA’s Iain Cantlay, in partnership with EVE Online creator CCP, the demo opened with a close-up of Sansha Nation’s recognizable Revenant Mothership. Following a few further shots, it was revealed that the Revenant was now tessellated, adding a significant level of extra detail and fidelity to the ship in realtime.

To demonstrate, DirectX 11 tessellation was toggled on and off in wireframe mode, revealing the massive amount of extra detail to audience members. Talking through the development process, Tony and CCP’s Halldor Fannar stated that Normal Maps, introduced by the Trinity expansion, had been used to create Displacement Maps, meshes that tell the game engine where to add extra tessellated detail.

Continuing with the demo, the benefits of tessellation were shown. Namely, each piece of added tessellated detail can be accurately lit by the game’s dynamic and environmental lighting, and can cast its own shadow, adding greatly to the overall fidelity of the ship. Also incorporating Shadow Mapping, Triplanar Detail Mapping, and a few new high-resolution textures, the upgraded Revenant drew a round of applause from the thousands of attendants.

In total, five-hundred million triangles were generated each and every second to display the Revenant in its new found glory, and though that sounds a lot, the demo was in fact running on a GeForce GTX 560, the most commonly used graphics card in EVE Online. Users concerned about frame rates shouldn’t worry – there’s dynamic level of detail tech to scale back the amount of tessellation as objects move further away from the player’s camera and as the number of objects in a scene increases, and there’s an independent slider allowing players to increase or decrease the amount of tessellation based on their system’s power or their personal preferences.

The demo’s next scene showed tessellated asteroids, each sporting greatly improved levels of detail and the same self-shadowing. As the game’s many ‘roids vary in size a specific triangle count couldn’t be stated, but on average there are hundreds of millions powering the tessellation. Again, tessellation was toggled on and off, and when on the wireframe view was entirely green, revealing that almost every pixel of the asteroid was enhanced.

Switching back to the Sansha Revenant, Tony showed another addition: space-based hardware-accelerated PhysX effects. Powered by the CUDA Cores present on all NVIDIA graphics cards released in the last five years, PhysX provides accurate, realistic interactions between objects. Already used in the Captain’s Quarters for avatar cloth and hair movement, Tony’s demo showed hundreds of hardware-accelerated asteroids crashing into the Revenant’s shielded hull and themselves.

To date, ships have merely bounced off EVE Online’s asteroids without actually colliding, but with PhysX, new, more realistic gameplay mechanics become possible, aping famous scenes from science fiction TV shows and movies. As the demo progressed, the PhysX-powered asteroids struck the ship’s shield, bouncing away realistically, pieces and particles breaking free using NVIDIA’s dynamic Fracture technology, only to hit further asteroids before bouncing again, once more with chunks breaking away on separate trajectories. Adding to the excitement, CCP’s Halldor revealed that the new additions look “incredible” in 3D Vision thanks to the geometric detail created by tessellation, which allows our stereoscopic 3D technology to better layer the asteroids and other scene elements.

Having whipped the crowd into a frenzy, Tony and Halldor dropped a bomb: these additions aren’t a done deal. Explaining, it was revealed that it would take approximately five ‘man years’ of work to upgrade the entire game to this level of fidelity; less than the fifty it took to create the much-lauded ‘Trinity’ graphics update, but still a considerable amount. Ultimately, the decision on whether to implement these features is up to the players – CCP wants to hear from the fans, and based on their comments CCP will decide whether to proceed with the upgrade. Going by the audience’s reaction at Fanfest it’s what the most dedicated of fans want, so let’s hope the rest do too.

Tony and Halldor concluded their stage appearance by announcing a world first: EVE Online players will be able to buy a physical, real-world product using in-game currency. Specifically, 20 PLEX buys a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 video card that will be shipped directly to the player’s doorstep without any additional fees. Immediately, the demand for in-game PLEX heightened, resulting in a "significant" increase in the ISK cost per PLEX. If you’re unfamiliar with EVE Online’s economy, players convert in-game money (ISK) into PLEX, which can be used to pay the game’s monthly subscription fee, or traded to other players for items or ships, or sold back to other players for ISK at a time when PLEX is more valuable.

Available soon through the PLEX Store, the offer will initially be operated on a limited basis, simply because CCP is unsure of the customs charges and import duties that could be levied against the firm on a never-before-seen virtual transaction.

For more Fanfest after-action reports, stay tuned to the official CCP news feed and their YouTube channel.

To try EVE Online for free, for fourteen days, head on over to the game’s official website, and with your account add your voice to the many asking for official implementation of the new graphical effects.

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