On October 4th, Linda “Brasse” Carlson (Director, Global Community Relations) hosted a webcast with Joe Shoopack (Director of Artistic Development) and Rick Reynolds (Sr. Manager, E-Commerce) to get the inside scoop on Player Studio™. EQ2Wire delivers an extensive nearly word-for-word transcript of this panel as there is so much information to be absorbed on this exciting new feature.
- Player Studio will allow players to create in-game items for EverQuest, EverQuest II, FreeRealms, and Vanguard.
- EverQuest and EverQuest II Player Studio websites have been live for several weeks now. FreeRealms will post their website of resources next week, while Vanguard is still a few weeks away.
- EQ2 Player Studio Overview
- EQ2 Player Studio FAQ
- EQ2 Player Studio How to Get Started
- EQ2 Player Studio Style Guide
These websites provide aspiring designers with a ton of information about what items they can create and what tools they need to create them
This is something we’ve been looking at doing for a long time. We have one of the best gaming communities out there. This is a great opportunity to let players flex their artistic skills. We’ve already seen great art on the forums, at Fan Faire SOE Live.
Brasse: I always had this sort of vision that if I went back and made comics, I’d have the art team sitting around going “What? You want this in another color? You want different pictures on it? Here! You do it!” and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Brasse: And (players) have an opportunity to make a small profit as well. So how did we come up with that profit-sharing arrangement? Doesn’t that make people really nervous on the E-Commerce side of things? (laughter) Letting other people have money?
Rick: There were some very “fun” conversations a couple of times with the executives and John Smedley in the room. We went back and forth on how much we could give (designers) and still make this work. It was great.
Brasse: As I recall, John kept pushing them to give more and more (percentage of the profit).
Rick: (joking) John would give away the whole company if we weren’t really careful with it.
Brasse: The percentage is really good. Did you want to talk about that?
Rick: We really don’t think that the main motivation people have for participating is the money. It’s the excitement of seeing their creative work and their cool ideas in the game world around them. The first time you see one of your objects in a game, it’s like a drug. It feels great. It’s a mini-high of its own.
Brasse (to camera): Hello, Fun Police? Drug reference not real.
Rick: We’re basically sharing as close to 50-50 as we can with the player creator. Even though the player has to do a lot of work to create an item, has to bring a lot of inspiration to the table, the game development team still has to work with that art at additional levels to get it finished and ready, into the game, and tested. We have maintenance costs associated with running the server. As well as running the reports to run the checks to pay (designers). We figure we’re doing a little bit more work than the player so splitting it 60-40 is as fair as we could do it.
Brasse: How does that compare to other companies?
Rick: I imagine Valve was disappointed to hear our percentage. We’re paying more than Valve.
Joe: I can talk a little bit about what we’ve done on the development side to prep for this.
Brasse: I’d love to hear about that, because I was really surprised. These are big games. EverQuest is, let’s face it, an older game. It’s been out for 13 years. How do you amend the architecture to allow stuff from the outside and become part of that game?
Joe: This is going to be an ongoing initiative for us. We’re obviously starting with a few items from each game. I definitely see that expanding as people start contributing. We’ll start looking at other items, other categories that we can add. Right now if you go to the websites, you’ll see that EverQuest we’re doing housing items, weapons, and shields, EQ2 we’re doing cloaks and housing items. We have not settled on the items for FreeRealms but they will be similar.
Joe: We’re trying to provide a range of artistic expression for the users. For example on EverQuest II, for cloaks, the player can create the texture map to put on the cloak, while we’ll provide the mesh for you if you don’t have any 3D experience. [Ed Note: For cloaks, aspiring designers can just paint the front and back designs of the cloak in Photoshop or other paint program without any 3D knowledge or tools).
Joe: For the fully 3D items, we have links on the website to a number of places to go where you can get 3D programs. We also link to some popular websites and communities you can go where people build these type of assets for games. We have a very basic Style Guide up there now which I think we'll be expanding as time goes by. We're really excited to see what the player community comes up with.
Brasse: We've already started to see a few samples of items coming in and they're getting more and more impressive all the time. From my point of view, in EQ2, Guild Cloaks are going to become amazing. I can just see that happening. I can hardly wait to redo the inmates cloak. Oh wait. Am I allowed to submit things as an employee?
Rick: No. Employees and their families are...
Brasse: I quit, now! No, this is the best job I've ever had. (to the camera) Somebody else in the guild will have to make an awesome inmates cloak. I'm looking at you, Jen.
How the Approval Process Works
Brasse: Can you give us a bit of walkthrough about what happens? So I want to make a guild cloak (ok, someone else in my guild). What do I do? What's the process?
Joe: First you're going to go to the website. For each type of item, we're providing a file for you to download which shows you exactly the type of submission we want. The rules and guidelines are published there as well. For the cloak, for example, you'll download the OBJ file into your 3D program and you'll start from there.
Rick: When you think your item is ready, you go back to the Player Studio website and there'll be a section "How to Submit". You'll login to your Station account and it will step you through what to do. There will be some example files there that are packages that are examples of a finished item. You'll download the package that matches the type of item you're creating. Inside that package is a form that you need to fill out and put it back into the package. Once you collect all the right things into the right folders, you Zip it up and then upload it through the website.
Rick: Once we receive the file, there's still a long journey the item has to go on as it makes its way through the system. First, it gets routed to the right game's dev team. The artists and designers will look at it and discuss "Does this match our style?" "Does it have too few or too many polygons?" "Is it too similar to something else?" "Would it go with the Halloween promos so maybe we should hold it to go with that?" "Should this be something we put on NPC guards in a new area?" There are a number of things we could do with it in addition to just putting it in the [StationCash Marketplace].
Brasse: How does this feedback get back to the players?
Joe: Each team is going to regularly look at these submissions. You submit a screenshot along with your artwork and we’re going to look at each and every submission, and go over them carefully. We’re just excited to see some of the cool stuff that we can add to the store.
Brasse: What happens if somebody uploads (oh this never happens) an inappropriate image?
Joe: I don’t think we accept inappropriate images.
Brasse: Ok but how do you send back the feedback, whether it’s an inappropriate image or it’s got too many polygons or let’s say the style isn’t necessarily in keeping with the game? How does the submitter get feedback?
Joe: On the technical front, we have the list of technical parameters. When you complete your item, double-check that list. There will be a filter so that if we say “Do not make a house item exceeding 2,000 polygons” and you submit an OBJ file with 2,002 polygons, you will get feedback that the submission failed because of too many polygons. We’ve really tried to keep the requirements as simple and as inclusive as possible. We’re not doing complex texture maps. It’s really set up for people new to 3D to be able to successfully create some assets.
Joe: As far as content related things, I’m going to turn that over to Rick.
Rick: As (the item) comes in, they have to take your art and make it into an in-game object. They have to assign a variety of parameters to it. They need to put it into the game database itself, and put it into a build. They have to test it. They have to put it into the Marketplace, make sure the name is right, the price is right, the description is there, there’s a (name) credit for the creator. Let’s talk about that for a second.
Credit For Your Work
Rick: You get credit for putting (an item) in. You’re not going to be the only one who knows that I made that cloak. As you go through the store, one of the things you’ll notice is that anything made by a player will be labeled as such. On the submission form, one of the questions is “How do you want to be credited?” It doesn’t have to be your character name, it could be something else. It should not be your (real life) name. You can pick a cool designer name. We are going to have to enforce uniqueness on the names though. This is cross-platform across our games, and we don’t want some to create some great items and then someone else to come in and fake being you. That’s not cool.
Rick: When your object gets into the game, we’re going to give you a complementary copy of your object on the character and server that you designate in your submission form.
Brasse: From the time that you submit an item, and assuming nothing goes wrong and it’s accepted “as-is”, do we even have a general time frame for the pipeline…
Rick: Months. It takes a long time and a lot of steps. There are art refinement steps. There are game design steps. There are testing steps. There are steps regarded to putting it into the right branch of the software code, and when that branch gets deployed according to software development schedules. Your object is not going to be the only thing that goes into the game on that day. It will be included in a content patch; a game update of some sort.
Joe: And obviously if you choose to make something seasonally-oriented, like if you are playing Halloween content and make a cool Halloween thing, by the time you make that, submit it… we’re not going to release that in May. Don’t feel restricted. We will get to it and look at it. We’re always looking for cool seasonal items. If you do want to make a seasonal item, do leave a little time — not the week before the content launches for the seasonal update.
Rick: if you really are adventurous and creative, you want to go for the furniture items. They can be small, huge, complex.
Joe: I’ll add to that. If you go to the website, you’ll see an image of a bed there. But it doesn’t need to be an actual piece of furniture. (It can be) anything to put on a player lot or in a house. It could be a crazy in-game fountain, or a piece of artwork, or a sculpture, anything you want to make.
Brasse: We’ve already seen what players build with existing structures and components. These are going to be truly outstanding.
Joe: I think the important thing that addresses something you said earlier Linda is, we do want to ensure that it’s your own work. You don’t want to find that KISS album cover and say “That’s going to make an awesome cloak.” That’s IP that belongs to someone else.
Brasse: Gene Simmons would not be happy.
Rick: Nor would the artist who made the album cover.
Joe: So part of the submission process is, you’ll be letting us know that you’re responsible for the creation of the item and you haven’t taken it from somewhere else. We want to respect other people’s creations.
Again, if you want to create an item without building or reshaping a 3D object, go for the cloaks. You can just paint a new texture for a cloak and submit that.
Q: Do you have to have a Subscription to submit?
A: (referring to EQ, EQ2, Vanguard, and FreeRealms all being Free-to-Play now) We don’t have subscriptions anymore. You do need a Station ID, but you can still be a free player and submit. You do not have to be a Gold member.
Q: What about use of transparency maps and animated textures, and the (file) format for the latter?
Joe: Right now we are not supporting transparency maps or animated textures. That doesn’t mean we won’t in the future. We’re going to stay fairly simple with how these maps are addressed early on.
Q: What about particle effects, lights, etc.? If we create candles and torches, what would we need to do to produce the same result seen in other like items in the game? For example candle and torch flame animation. Also the lighting source that a result of the flame, and perhaps smoke that is emanating from objects. (Wow this is getting complicated)
Joe: Well that’s a really good question because all our effects are done with in-game proprietary tools. We’re not going to ask you to imitate that in a 3D program. We would have to recreate that anyway. When you submit your item, you will have an opportunity in the description of the item (or the comment field), you can detail that out. Like “I made this brazier and it would be great if the coals glowed and if there was a smoke effect.” or “I made this shield and it would be nice if the iconography had a glow effect.” We can’t promise that we can do all the things, but we definitely want to hear your suggestions if it’s effects-related to take it over the top.
Brasse: So that’s all part of the polish process, then?
Joe: That would be something we add, but we want to hear from you what (the item) needs.
[Editor's Note: My personal suggestion to aspiring designers is to include a screenshot of your item that has been stylized to include any glows, lighting, and other effects that you want the item to have as a reference for the EQ2 team to draw from]
Brasse: On a few sites, not our sites, probably EQ2Wire, people were saying “Is this going to put the artists of SOE out of business? This sounds like they’re going to be busier than ever.
Joe: We’ll be very busy.
Joe: The thing is, the OBJ format is a very program-agnostic format. We still have to take that item, do whatever tweaks we need to do so it will run most efficiently in our engine. I don’t think we’ll be putting any of the artists out of work.
Rick: My friends among the artists don’t seem very scared by this. They’re actually really curious to see what people are making.
Brasse: It’s going to be really interesting.
Q: Do MTL files need to be generated and submitted, and if so, is there a defined default for the specularity, diffuse, ambient, etc. colors for objects, or are the typical standard defaults used?
Rick: You’re going to scare them.
Joe: MTL files? (incredulous)
Brasse: I know, we’re getting into Greek here.
Q Continued: For example the standard default for ambience would be KA (0.2,0.2,0.2).
Brasse (to Joe): How would you respond to that, Sir, cause I have no idea what any of that just meant!
Joe: Well, it’s interesting. It’s obviously from someone who’s familiar with 3D and 3D programs. The MTL basically describes the quality of the shader you’re applying to your object. You don’t have to worry about submitting or stripping out that information. You don’t have to submit… We have our own shaders in-game as well. That’s part of our reconstruction of the asset.
Rick: Don’t put the MTL file in your upload submission.
Joe: We’re only asking for the OBJ file.
Brasse: For those of you who actually know what an MTL file is. Luckily I would never do that because I have no idea. MTL. Sounds like some kind of BLT variation.
Q: Are the Vertex Normals required in the OBJ? Some rendering engines use them, and some don’t, so I usually strip them out. I did notice that vertex normals were present in the distillery object file. It never hurts to leave them in the file but it accounts for about 1/4 of the filesize.
A: This is a question for someone who is fairly well-versed in 3D as well. What he’s talking about is should he strip out this vertex data to make his filesize smaller. Not necessary. The vertex data, you can define the hardness and softness of edges, so you don’t want to strip that information. We actually want that information in your file.
Q: Will SOE be providing any software tools, meshes, etc. for those of us who are less artistically inclined but would like to give it a whirl?
Joe: We have a link under the PlayerStudio FAQ where we’ve listed a number of 3D programs and 2D programs. Some of them are completely free. Some are trial versions. We don’t want to restrict you in what kind of program you’re using. The format for textures (TGA) and 3D (OBJ) are fairly generic formats.
Joe: We use Maya [ed. note -- a $3,500 3D modeling program], but we’re not requiring you to purchase Maya to create anything. You can download a program like Blendr which is completely open source and free. You can create 3D objects in that software. The great thing is that there are tons of tutorials all over the internet. We also list a number of 3D sites and communities where you can ask for advice and find other people who are just beginning to work in 3D.
Q: Will we be able to make weapons and/or armor?
Brasse: Weapons and armor are a lot more complex. (to Joe) How long after the initial launch do you plan to introduce more (item categories)?
Joe: Right now we have weapons (and shields) available in EQ. Weapons for EQ2 require a “bone” inside the weapon, so that’s something we’re looking at. We haven’t announced when or if we’re going to make that available.
Joe: Armor is a trickier concept because it would have to be fitted to multiple player characters.
[Editor's Note: Currently there are about a half dozen base sets of armor in EQ2, with countless recolors, and since the introduction of The Shadow Odyssey, numerous "snap on" armor pieces to make different sets of armor unique even though they share the same base armor. There are 19 races in EQ2 (sorry kids, but Freebloods are just retextured High Elves). When you add male and female, that means each armor set has to fit 38 different "skeletons" or models.
Joe: We’re still looking at all these things. We haven’t taken anything off the table. The more people do fantastic stuff, the more likely we’re going to do the background work to make these other categories available.
Rick: It’s worth sometimes understanding the orders of difficulty involved. Let’s say you’re making a weapon in EQ2 or Vanguard. We could put one up there that has a bone in it and let you redo it. You have to be careful as you make it that the bone stays where it needs to so that it looks good in every kind of animation and size of character that might have it. It can’t visually intersect anywhere or look “off”. And that’s just something being held in the hand and moved around.
Rick: If you look at the armor for a second, it has to cover all the right parts, and not cover any of the wrong parts, on every different race, and sometimes several body types on each race and both genders, there’s a lot of complication on that. Even if all you wanted to do was take a perfect piece of armor that’s been submitted and test it on every character, that’s going to take time.
Brasse: (to the camera) You know there are people sitting there watching this going “Throw it at me, man. I can do this.” (head nodding by Joe and Rick)
Q: How soon will international players be able to submit items for consideration? (Brasse: this is a good question.)
Rick: We obviously want all of our players to have access to this. The only thing limiting us is government laws. We’re already set up to do certain things in the United States… Some of the processes and rules and paperwork we have in place to hire outside vendors can be adapted to work also for revenue sharing with players in this program. We don’t have that all set up in every country.
Rick: We have to look at every single country, look at the rules of revenue sharing in that country. Is it eligible for income tax? Is there some other kind of tax? Do we have to register a certain way? Are there age limitations? What paperwork is involved? Then we have to go to our international lawyers not our normal lawyers. If we have distribution partners in those countries, or Europe, or Russia, we have to discuss it with them and make sure everyone’s happy. It’s going to take a while.
Rick: We’re going to end up rolling out a few countries at a time as we do them, because it’s so much work, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to hold back a whole lot of other countries until we get all of them sorted.
Brasse: On Friday, October 18th at 10am, there will be a 1 hour Player Studio panel at SOE Live. Hopefully we’ll have that livecast. We can’t guarantee it but we hope to.
Brasse: We’re going to have some samples that were created from our friends at the San Diego Art Institute.
Joe: Actually, they’re not created by the Art Institute.
Brasse: They’re not?
Joe: Individual folks.
Brasse: Who may or may not go to the Art Institute.
Brasse: We also have some directly from the player community. I’ve been in contact with a few of them. We’ve got some samples in which, for legal reasons, we’re not actually allowed to show them to you. It drives me crazy because they’re really awesome. You’re going to have to come to SOE Live to see them. Please join us at SOE Live for this panel. Bring your questions.
Joe: We’re going to have some artists there taking you through how we create some of these items too. During the panel and immediately afterwards. We’ll have some artists on hand in the Battlegrounds area with a row of computers dedicated. This will happen immediately after the Player Studio panel on Friday and we may even have this at some point on Saturday.
Rick: If you’re too shy to ask a question in front of the big panel, you can take them up one-on-one with the artists. You can ask your question from the artist(s) for your game.
No SOE Livecast next week as we’ll be at GDC in Austin and then getting ready for SOE Live 2012!
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