EVE Online premium graphics pack demonstrated

At last week’s EVE Fanfest in Reykjavík, Iceland, members of the development staff responsible for the Macintosh version of the massively multiplayer game EVE Online debuted a development build of the game running premium graphics for the first time natively under Mac OS X. The developers also reiterated the importance of the Mac and Linux versions of EVE moving forward.

EVE Online enables players to captain their own starships as they participate in a variety of different missions in an online world. Players can be pirates, captains of massive fleets engaging in battles against other players, leaders of industry and manufacturing, and much more.

Premium running on the Mac now

“Premium is now running on the Mac,” explained Lucas Smithen, TransGaming’s product manager for Cider. Smithen and other representatives of TransGaming and CCP spoke to about two dozen attendees of a Mac and Linux-specific “Local Chat” roundtable during EVE Fanfest. Last year, a similar chat netted about one fourth the number of attendees. Most of the people in the room wanted details on EVE Online for the Mac.

EVE Online
EVE Online with Premium Graphics provides a near-cinematic experience for players.

The effort to get Premium Graphics running on the Mac was part of a last-minute crunch leading up to Fanfest, according to Smithen. The work TransGaming has done will still need to be vetted by CCP’s Quality Assurance (QA) team prior to release, however, and neither TransGaming nor CCP could commit to a date, but no one expects it to be very long.

On Windows systems, the Premium Graphics technology utilizes Microsoft’s DirectX 9 Application Programming Interface (API) and many other changes to its graphics architecture to manage the improved look of the game. Conventional wisdom suggests that that would incur a performance penalty, but in fact, the opposite is true — performance has actually improved from “Classic” to “Premium” on systems that have a modern graphics architecture.

Sea change in game architecture

This is because CCP is migrating its graphics rendering technology for EVE Online more and more to the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) installed inside modern computers, either on the graphics card of a modular system like the Mac Pro, or the graphics subsystem of a MacBook or MacBook Pro.

Speaking of MacBooks, Smithen and TransGaming CTO Gavriel State confirm that EVE Online in both its current release configuration and the forthcoming Premium release operate quite well on Apple’s new MacBooks, which incorporate an Nvidia graphics architecture. State said that his MacBook Pro, running only with the 9400M graphics hardware integrated on the motherboard, outperforms Smithen’s older MacBook Pro, which uses ATI’s Radeon X1600 graphics.

State admits the past year has been a major learning experience for TransGaming, as well as CCP. They didn’t anticipate many of the pitfalls that have held up the release of the Premium Graphics package on the Mac platform, he said, but both TransGaming and CCP have put in place new processes to improve their relationship going forward — actions confirmed by Arend Stührmann, the associate producer at CCP Games whose responsibilities include the Mac release.

State said that TransGaming has also stepped up to the plate to work with the Khronos Group, the industry consortium that manages the OpenGL specification used by Apple.

“We’re working closely with Khronos, with ATI, Nvidia and with Apple to ensure that OpenGL is going to expose the things we need, not only for EVE Online but also for the other projects we’re working on,” said State.

Walking in Stations definitely coming to the Mac

Much of EVE Fanfest’s attention was focused on a forthcoming feature of the game called “Walking in Stations,” or “Ambulation.” It enables EVE starship captains to, for the first time since the game’s release, leave the confines of their vehicles and interact directly with each other. The new features — to be introduced at a later date yet to be named — will be available on the Mac, according to Shay McAulay, QA Engineering Lead at CCP.

“Not releasing Walking In Stations on the Mac would be a huge mistake,” said McAulay. “We’re going to try to launch at the same time.”

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