Own a piece of Camelot
Issue: Volume: 26 Issue: 9 (September 2003)

Own a piece of Camelot

By Karen Moltenbrey

Want to purchase a new home? What about a customized multistory Tudor-style dwelling, with a lush, flower-filled garden, that's located in a desirable village-style setting called Camelot? Although the current interest rates may be extremely low, this type of home may still be beyond your financial reach—unless you are a resident of Mythic Entertainment's massively multiplayer online (MMO) game Dark Age of Camelot.

Players of Dark Age of Camelot can feel more at home than ever in this virtual online game world thanks to a new expansion package that enables their cyber counterparts to purchase and decorate houses with a range of detailed 3D models.

Mythic recently released Dark Age of Camelot: Foundations, a free, downloadable expansion to the game that adds player and guild housing options to the MMO role-playing title. With Foundations, players and groups, called guilds, can pick the neighborhood they want to live in, select the perfect lot, and then choose a construction style that fits their taste—and virtual budget. Players use game coins, or game points, which they earn through "adventuring," to pay a weekly rent. If the rent is not paid, the residence will disappear, and the lot will become available on the Camelot market. Rent also can be paid with tokens purchased through bounty points, which are earned in battle.

After buying their houses, players can decorate and redecorate their homes' interiors. And, in a first for housing systems within MMO games, they even can landscape the exteriors. All this is done by choosing from hundreds of elaborate 3D objects, ranging from torches, chairs, bookshelves, and pictures to hedges, flowers, and stone walls.

Constructing a virtual abode (along with its contents) in an MMO game requires a different approach than an artist would take for a single-person title. In short, the imagery has to be appealing to players, yet the models have to be light enough so the scene can be rendered in near-real time, no matter how items are purchased by players or how many characters wander into the environment at any given time. "The entire Foundations expansion is delivered via download, so we had to optimize the imagery to minimize the overall file size of the content," explains content producer Walter Yarbrough. "Therefore, our decorations required several [creative] passes and lengthy engine programming for maximum aesthetics and rendering efficiency."

To further optimize the imagery, the artists duplicated the ground textures in the housing zones located within the game's three realms, or styles (Albion, Midgard, and Hibernia). To vary their appearances, the team changed the layout of the trees, rivers, lakes, and other objects. Moreover, the artists used Mythic's extensive library of European period architecture to ensure that the available structures matched the appropriate style of each realm.

Using Discreet's 3ds max, artists at Mythic created 3D models that Camelot players can buy for their "game" rooms and gardens. Players also can obtain unique items through in-game skills and by hunting certain trophy monsters.

"We had developed our own internal style for each realm during the [initial] creation of Camelot and the subsequent expansions," says Yarbrough. "Our specific research for housing, though, did turn up some new information, which we then implemented. For example, our Albion mansions have a garden on the top floor, similar to the roof gardens found in some medieval manors."

The team generated the housing, decorations, and plant models, as well as the terrain, with Discreet's 3ds max. For texturing, it used Adobe Systems' Photoshop. Rendering occurs in real time through the title's NetImmerse 4.2 game engine from NDL. One of the biggest technical and artistic challenges, according to Yarbrough, was creating an interior plane system for the walls and floors, whereby each interior wall decoration could be attached and rotated at any location on a wall or floor. This system, which replaced the team's initial "hook-point" system for attaching an item at a designated location in the house, also was used for the floors and provided a wider range of customization options.

Players can use the structures as private, outdoor markets to sell goods to other virtual beings through a consignment merchant, a non-playable character that stands outside the abode and hawks the goods when the player is off-line. Or, a player can open an in-home business by purchasing "crafting" tools, which can be stored in a large vault, and selling the items from the locale. The housing sites themselves are grouped in villages containing approximately 10 lots, with paths connecting the villages. The areas are located in special zones within each of the game realms, making them safe from attack by members of opposing factions.

Initially, Mythic will auction off 36,000 housing lots, which will be sold through a reverse auction process. This counters the first-come, first-served land-grab problems experienced in other online game housing systems, whereby players buy as much real estate as possible and then sell it for a higher price to meet user demand. Conversely, the prices of the Camelot lots will be high at first, but will decrease steadily until they reach a set minimum or the lots are purchased. According to Mythic president Mark Jacobs, this allows the prices to fluctuate according to location and market demand.

During the first month of availability, more than 20,000 homes were sold, and Mythic says it will add more housing zones as needed. The developer also plans to make additional content available for Foundations through regular downloadable patches.

Karen Moltenbrey is a senior technical editor at Computer Graphics World.

Adobe Systems www.adobe.com
Discreet www.discreet.com
NDL www.ndl.com