Saturday, June 2, 2012

So Emo. No, Wait! SOEmote : EQ2

Hands up who saw this one coming. Anyone? Anyone? Thought not. Sometimes an idea starts so far out in left field you have to turn your head to the right to see it coming.

Go on, turn your head. Your froglok head.

Would you like to see your character yawn when you yawn? I think I can say with complete honesty it's never crossed my mind. Must have been itching away at someone, though because yesterday Dave "Smokejumper" Georgeson gave us the benefit of a long close-up of his ever-smiling face as he enthused his way through a promo for SoE's Big New Idea. If you haven't seen it yet, go watch this.

To sum up if you didn't care to click through, EQ2 is getting both real-time facial tracking and voice fonts. Your character will be able to look more like you and sound less.

Trying to digest that news gobbet, I must have looked pretty much like Froggie the Imaginatively-Named Froglok. Let it settle a while, though and things begin to clarify. This tech was developed for something else and adapted but it's a good fit for EQ2.

Added value is what it's all about. EQ2 is becoming a portmanteau MMO. So much to do there these days the undertow is hard to fight. I keep getting sucked back in and something like this isn't fluff on the upholstery any more, it's the stuffing in the seats that's making it such a comfortable ride. (Yes, I do mix my metaphors with a blender).

"I'm not sure officer. He sounded like a froglok"

In his lengthy PCGamer interview Smokejumper says "All games should have this" and he would, wouldn't he? He's never knowingly under-enthused. But SoE have the very worst history of innovation. They spit out ideas like the old woman at the back of the bus spitting sunflower husks into a paper cup and they pay about as much attention to them afterwards, too. The question's not "should we have it?" but "will you remember we've got it after you've given it to us?"

He says "Once you get used to other people’s faces moving realistically and intuitively, characters in other games start to feel really plastic and mannequin-like". If I was charged with boosting EQ2 I'd be chary of putting the plastic dollface image back into anyone's mental field of view but that aside, he may have a point. If, that is, you habitually stare at the faces of other people's characters when you play.

Does anyone do that? Well, yes. Roleplayers do. Or at least they sit in groups facing each other, talking in /say and emoting til their fingers bleed. This I know not from EQ2 but from Rift, where in both Sanctum and Meridian I would frequently push through knots of them deep in the kind of conversation I remember from all yesterday's parties.

I don't envy them the emotional commitment and I won't be joining them but I can see how strongly something like this could play to that crowd. No, while I'm looking forward a lot to playing around with the facial imaging, it's the voice fonts that really interest me.

I ams so a troll pirates! Can't you hear my deeps troll voice?

Georgeson says of the integration of voice chat within EQ2: "Once players revealed their real voices to each other, it suddenly started feeling awkward to pretend to be a big gruff troll or a high elf princess… and roleplay took a serious nosedive". I don't know how badly it impacted roleplay but it's the main reason I've never used voice chat. I play in a really small room and the thought of filling it with a babel of Dutch, Texan and Aussie voices creeps me out more than somewhat. Imagining being surrounded by a gabbling menagerie of Kerrans, Iksars and Ratongas, on the other hand, has the opposite effect.

If you have the kind of awkward memory I do, you may recall that we were told years ago in the original PR release for EQ2's voice chat that it would include "voice masks". In typical SOE fashion, once mentioned this idea was left by the side of the road somewhere to wither up and die. There are third-party apps around already that will do what we were promised but at last we can just change a couple of settings in-game and squeak properly.

How much use am I going to make of this? Who knows? It's not in-game yet and I'll reserve judgment until I see it working. Smokejumper talks a good game and I am broadly happy with the direction he's taken EQ2 since he took control (I still think of him as being in charge of EQ2 with Windstalker as his sock-puppet) but the game he talks is sometimes better than the game we get to play.

It has possibilities, though. Enough that I'm going to buy a webcam tomorrow. An idea for an all-ratonga podcast just popped into my head...


  1. I have been wanting this since voicechat first became popular and killed RP. I've been roleplaying in MMOs since The Realm in 1995, and, like you, I refuse to use voicechat.

    In the past year or so, I have stopped roleplaying because it has now been relegated to being scheduled and low-priority by most people, meaning, "we only do it once a week in a tavern for an hour or so". That's not RP to me. RP is what Smokejumper said -- *being* somebody else, no matter what you're doing in game.

    Seems most people are underwhelmed, but I am incredibly psyched. Now I just have to figure out how to set up voicechat and a webcam.

    Once again, EQ2 shows me just how much it suits my playstyle.

  2. My observation is that a lot of MMO players who also play FPS games and/or focus on raiding or PvP don't realize how strongly disliked voice chat is by other segments of the MMO community. I'm nowhere near as adamantly opposed to it as a lot of people I've spoken to in-game over the years. I've had many players comment that they would stop playing altogether rather than use voice chat.

    I always said I'd try it if we got voice masks. The problem I see, though, is that we can't voice mask others. My problem's not listening to my own voice - a lot of people would say that's something I'm far too fond of doing. It's listening to other people I have the problem with! What I'd really like is to be able to set my client to let me hear all Ratonga characters with a Ratonga voice font and so on.

    Whatever the limitations, I'm glad they've given it a try at least.


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