Augmented reality just kicked down the door and smiled at the denizens of Norrath! The August 7th patch for Everquest 2 brought one heck of a dose of personality to the legendary MMO. And that personality is yours!
Demoed earlier this year, Sony Online Entertainment’s new SOEmote (I get it!) is a radical little bit of programming voodoo that maps your facial expressions onto the polygons of your virtual world counterpart. Coupled with Everquest 2’s new voice chat which allows on-the-fly pitch alterations via “voice fonts”, your favorite MMO characters spring to life with your every word and expression. SOEmote is an astonishing bit of technology. When it works.
Read on to discover the price of this magic and its implications for the future.
The first stumbling block I ran into was the lack of an option to select a default camera. While I realize my setup is not exactly standard, I was forced to remove both an extra webcam as well as uninstalling ManyCam, a piece of video recording software which acts as a webcam. One of my cameras, a Logitech QuickCam, was simply not up to the task at all. On the rare occasions my face was correctly recognized, it would not register fast enough for Everquest’s SOEmote system to use. A Microsoft Lifecam produced much better (i.e. consistently successful) results, yet still Everquest still displayed a “Low Camera FPS” warning. It must be said that neither of these cameras were top-of-the-line hardware even when they were new, years ago.
My second problem was lighting. Being a PC gamer means that I eek out a quiet existence in the darkest corner I can find, leaning back in an office chair casually stuffing my face with tasty snacks. Obviously, this is far from the ideal environment for facial recognition software. Flooding the room with accursed light and locking my chair in an upright position helped the situation somewhat. It wasn’t until I was shining 30 watts of the bright stuff directly into my face that I finally achieved true success. Let me tell ya, Battling the forces of the undead is a good deal more annoying with a light pointed directly into your eyes.
To SOEmote’s credit, it had no problem identifying my mouth hidden under the ol’ handlebar moustache. I must admit to being rather shocked by this. Between the hair cascading down the sides of my head and the bushes sprouting across my face, I don’t have the best track record with this kind of stuff.
Once the technical and environmental issues were sorted out, the results were spellbinding! The SOEmote system makes your character squint, grimace, scowl, and laugh right along with your every facial tick. Lips flap in real time with your voice and your fantasy counterpart will even turn their head when you do. Grouping with like SOEmote equipped players displays a real-time headshot of their toon on the side your screen. You’ll have a front row seat as your party’s tank scowls and hangs his head in shame when death claims him. Likewise, he’ll see you tip your head back and laugh because you didn’t heal the incompetent jerk on purpose.
Finicky as it may be, SOEmote is a truly magical experience for lovers of technology, augmented reality, online gaming, and even good ol’ human interaction. It is a must-have feature for every fan of online role playing. Additionally, Sony may have just made Everquest 2 the machinima engine of choice for storytellers. SOEmote is a fascinating step in bringing together like-minded hobbyists, some of whom may be half a world away, in a very real way in a very unreal world.
I believe this is the next great step for online gaming. Be they Frog Man or Rat Girl, you just can’t help but feel the magic of having these virtual puppets, static dummies just yesterday, given life and emotion by real people. If this catches on, every other online game will feel cold and static in comparison. It is the difference between seeing George Lucas’ Star Wars CG armies and watching Andy Serkis play Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Jim Henson would have loved this technology
Fancy giving it a spin? Everquest II is free-to-play (also on Steam). Use of SOEmote, like most of the game’s content, requires no purchase or subscription. You may want to use a laptop with a good webcam in a bright room though.