Sunday, September 30, 2007

Emerging From Strangle Angles: Ultima Online Kingdom Reborn

EA is celebrating the ten year anniversary of Ultima Online by releasing Kingdom Reborn, which revamps the graphics engine. Kind of.

In a way, I feel like EA dropped the ball by implementing the new graphics engine the way they did. It still utilizes the horrifyingly awful looking oblique perspective that used to be the standard presentation format for computer RPGs! I suppose they didn't want to change things too much; there's always those people out there who don't want anything at all to change. And, of course, because the graphics are all new, certain areas and armors might not look the same (ruining the hard work of designers who spend hours in game decorating their homes or color coordinating their clothing.)

But the new graphics, while an improvement, still look extraordinarily dated, because of the fixed "birds-eye" 45-degree angle perspective. Oblique perspectives are a crude kludge to cheaply create a 2D rendering of a 3D scene; it was attractive to developers when graphics were entirely hand-drawn because it allows you to maximally reuse art assets and can be rendered without a lot of processing power (since you simply tile the art). But it looks awful. The angles just look wrong. In fact, I'm convinced the Hounds of Tindalos emerge from them.

Developers used them because there was no other way to cheaply render 3D scenes in the past. Today, except on handhelds like the PSP or DS perhaps, there is no real purpose for it anymore. Please, for the love of all that is holy, let's bury the 3/4 perspective forever. Top down perspectives are great, of course. But they should be realistically rendered. With proper angles and such. And cameras that rotate around so you can see the other side of the walls.

Oh well, I suppose in the end it really was the proper business decision. Changing the game too much might drive away their existing customers. And even with a true 3D perspective or a non-fixed camera, its possible that it wouldn't draw in that many new customers.

So, happy birthday Ultima Online, and I hope all your players are enjoying their newly rendered adventures in Brittania.