In this customer spotlight, we explore how CCP Games, the developers of the renowned space-based MMORPG EVE Online, leveraged the power of Embergen to help revolutionize the game's volumetric clouds. By incorporating Embergen's cutting-edge technology into their pipeline, CCP Games achieved stunning visual enhancements in their new volumetric clouds and improved velocity of their overall real-time visual effects authoring pipeline.

How did you discover EmberGen, and why did you think it could be a valuable tool for you and your team?

As game developers we are constantly looking for ways to improve our workflows, so we can spend less time battling with tools and more time creating a visually enhanced gameplay experience. When Embergen came along with its state-of-the-art real-time fluid dynamics simulation, the buzz in the visual effects community was palpable and we could not wait to get our hands on it. Creating realistic and visually striking visual effects requires substantial iteration and polish to reach production-level quality, so the faster we can generate and author the resources to create the visual effects, the better.

EVE Online has always strived for visual excellence, offering players a breathtaking universe filled with diverse celestial landscapes. However, with EVE Online now entering its third decade of live operations, we recognized the need to elevate the game's graphics to new heights by introducing new volumetric clouds. These ethereal formations play a vital role in setting the tone, enhancing immersion, and creating a sense of awe and wonder within the game's vast virtual universe. Previous approaches to cloud rendering were cumbersome, time consuming, and had for a long time dissuaded us from embarking on such a project, as we ship releases and expansions in short timespans. Embergen emerged as the perfect tool to meet the challenge, with its ability to simulate high-quality clouds at insanely fast (real-time) speeds. This was a huge draw for us and after testing out the software in beta, we had full confidence that it could provide us the authoring experience, and rapid iteration necessary to get to the visual quality we want, with the resources and timeframes we have.

You've recently added some true volumetric effects in EVE, which are still not commonly seen in today's games. What was that process like?

Our engine team started by implementing some base-level volumetric rendering, and with Embergen, we were extremely quickly able to output VDB’s (A set of volumetric data) to be consumed by a shader in the game engine. We started off using a tried and tested texture format (dds), but at almost full quality the sizes of which were 300-400 megabytes and much too large to release (as we want very many clouds in the future of all shapes and sizes). We spent some time implementing an in-house compression that utilizes re-digitizing, run-length-encoding, and zlib. This gave us around a 10x decrease in file size (the data gets unzipped onto graphics card memory, where it goes back to true size). For low-quality settings, we found we needed to ship half-resolution textures for graphics cards with less memory.

We found the authoring process to be super smooth with the use of Embergen, with its suite of forces, colliders, emitters and shapes plus simulation features coupled with a modern node-based user-friendly interface. The ability to author curve animations onto all the parameters really empowered us to design, simulate and rapidly iterate, to reach the kind of rich and beautiful clouds we wanted to bring into EVE with very little time spent. This enabled a small team to deliver a good big mix of assets for delivery in our Viridian expansion.

What are some of your favorite effects in EVE that were made possible with EmberGen:

One of our favorites at the moment are definitely the new missile impact visual effects we released in the Viridian Expansion (June 2023), where somewhere between 60-80% of the textures were created using Embergen. In the development of these missile impact visuals we generated explosions of different types and rendered them out as animated texture atlases, sometimes bringing them into After Effects to make them tileable (for applying to a sphere, see far right), or to add some distortion (see second from right). Having created textures of this kind before with older tools. Embergen provided a huge improvement to this process, making it much more fun, as real-time VFX artists we of course love authoring in real-time and that is where this tool really shines.

What were some of the results and impacts of using Embergen?

The integration of clouds created with Embergen into EVE Online marked a significant milestone for CCP Games, resulting in a profound visual transformation of combat dungeons/sites players can visit in space. The new volumetric clouds added a sense of depth, grandeur, and realism to the game's environments, which can be seen in the following video, which showcases some of our new gameplay spaces:

Concluding / future thoughts?

By leveraging Embergen's fantastic fluid simulation package, we´ve successfully elevated the visual splendor of EVE Online. The addition of Embergen into our vfx pipeline enabled the creation of captivating, and gorgeous volumetric clouds that serve as a visual feast for players. There are more than just visual benefits, such as the immense power of Embergen’s cutting-edge and hyper-fast iterative environment. This will be transformative for us going forward, allowing much faster asset creation and iteration of existing content in the future.

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