For The Love

By Jim Rossignol on February 20th, 2008 at 6:49 pm.

Love lifts us where we belong.
Occasionally encounters with human intelligence can be entirely bewildering. Suddenly you’re faced with the fact that other minds move in the same world and speak the same language, and yet have thoughts and intellectual processes going on that are entirely alien – and superior – to your own. That’s certainly how it feels to be shown the work of Eskil Steenberg, while sat at a spare table in a GDC conference hall. Steenberg’s temperamental laptop might not have wanted to help out, but what we saw flickering on that screen was astonishing and somewhat unsettling.

Steenberg is working on quite a different plane. Not just from wishful luddites like me, but also other developers and artists. He casually chats away about the procedural multiplayer adventure that he’s creating by himself, and in doing so reveals glimpses of a kind of creative genius that you’d be lucky to find anywhere, but that you could only find in the games industry. Steenberg is an artist and a prodigiously talented programmer. He has both the vision and the technical skill to create something spectacular, all on his own. Hell, if Eskil gives up tomorrow and never gets this game out to its audience it will still be important to me. Just the idea that one man can set out to make an mini MMO that looks like lavish impressionistic artwork brought to life… well, just look at it. In motion it was suggestive of a smokey, dynamically lit version of Okami.

It must be love, love love.

He pulled up his tools, applications for object rendering and design that are more like game interfaces than things designed for hard work. In fact, as he’s showing us some graphical tech he suddenly clicks on a ghostly spaceship that’s passing over his rendered street scene and the tool window instantly becomes a game of Asteroids. As I said; bewildering.

The game itself, dubbed Love (as in For The Love Of Game Development), is an exploration-based moderately-multiplayer FPS with astounding impressionistic visuals and a procedurally generated universe. Since Steenberg is a one man show, he’s relying on clever maths to build the world for him and then clever gamers to come in and help him figure out where to take it, and what to do with it.

So far he’s already populated it with weird animals and wondrous, gaseous visuals, and he intends to build the world into a kind of communal adventure, where gamers work together to furnish a central village, defend it from enemy attack, and explore the surround world and its many dungeons. Players will be able to do things like deform elements of terrain, allowing them to build tunnel networks or walls to defend their property. Items will also be intended for the good of all as Steenberg creates them and drops them into the world. You won’t be picking up rifles in your adventures, but more likely the plans for the rifle-building machine, that can then be utilised by everyone in your village. Part Zelda, part Tale In The Desert, part adventure shooter, and wholly abstract and beautiful, Love looks the kind of amalgam of art, programming and internet savvy that we’ve desired without even being able to imagine. It has the potential, and Steenberg has the huge intellect, for this to be one of the most precious events in PC gaming.

Love is a beautiful thing.

Nonetheless it’s unclear what’s going to happen to Steenberg and his project. He says he’s not doing it for the money and that he only needs 200-or-so subscribers to justify running the live game. From what I’ve seen he’ll be lucky to avoid being swamped by thousands, those hungry legions of gamers who want something quite different from their MMO experience, and just aren’t getting it.

Love, oh Love, it has me quite giddy indeed.

[You'll find more screens of Love here. More details when we have them.]

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78 Comments »

  1. Zarniwoop says:

    Oh Jesus Christ, this looks simply terrific. Slightly uncanny as well, as I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how there should be way more games which employ artistic graphics, since nearly all games nowadays seem to have the same sort of graphical ‘style’ about them. Love looks to be almost /exactly/ the game, graphics-wise, that I had in my mind’s eye.

  2. CakeAddict says:

    I’ll certainly keep a eye on this, this sort of thing is right up my alley.
    I serieusly like the art style I’ve always like things in a drawn/painted style.
    And he will be swamped by this indeed, some great ideas there.

  3. Larington says:

    We wants it, precious.

  4. Kadayi says:

    I read about this in EDGE a few months back, the visual style is striking (everything looks like it was lovingly crafted in Painter), almost the reverse of what Introversion are up to with Subversion in some ways.

  5. UncleLou says:

    Really, really beautiful.

  6. Okami says:

    It’s stuff like this that makes me want to quit my job right on the spot and hide away in some corner, crying myself softly to sleep, because I’ll never be able to create something like that, even if I’d live a thousand years.

  7. leafdot says:

    I want more things like this, by people like that. Sounds amazing.

  8. Meat Circus says:

    Monsieur, with this WANT you are really spoiling us.

    It looks and sounds astounding: I hope this is one concept that can live up to its promise. I’d be happy to fork over some New English Pounds per month to make something that beautiful continue to exist.

  9. Chris Evans says:

    Wow, that looks pretty darn amazing, not just the visuals but the way he is approaching it too. Best of luck to him, will be happy to fork over some dosh to have an explore of that world

  10. Tom says:

    Bollocks to Crysis…

  11. Theory says:

    Sorry to be the Scrooge of the group, but for all the prettiness it takes a lot more than this to grab my interest. I just don’t see what there is to be excited about yet.

  12. Cyren says:

    That screenshot link at the end looks wrong. Should it lead us to screens instead of a single screen?

  13. Vollgassen says:

    Looks amazing. Look like speed paintings… procedurally generated speed paintings— it could probably even be used as a tool for coming up with landscape concept art.

  14. dartt says:

    As soon as my brain registered that the picture I was seeing must be a game screenshot I sat back and said “wow” out loud.

    @Theory: Wouldn’t you like to explore a world that looked like that?

    Looks aside, it sounds like an interesting gameplay experiment. Keep us posted please!

  15. Noc says:

    The thing that impresses me isn’t that it’s pretty. It’s that it’s procedurally-generated prettiness, which means you’ve got endless variations of landscapes based on this.

    I want to hear more about mechanics, though. About what you’ll actually be doing, there.

  16. Theory says:

    @Theory: Wouldn’t you like to explore a world that looked like that?

    That would be a great, nay fantastic addition to a game, but not a game of itself.

  17. UncleLou says:

    Well , fair enough I guess. Exploring places and atmosphere are one of my main interest in games, and these screenshots glow brightly in that regard, and look fantastically unique. That means a lot more to me than hearing any gameplay details at this stage.

  18. TychoCelchuuu says:

    Neat.

  19. Veloxi says:

    Oh this looks awesome, I’d totally sign up for this. :)

  20. Therlun says:

    I may sound pretty negative, but for me it sounds like a procedurally generated Tale in the Desert with added monster- and item grind.

    I dont see the genius in there… yet.

  21. Fat Zombie says:

    I’ve never been a fan of MMOs (I can’t/won’t pay for a monthly subscription, and I haven’t yet tried Guild Wars). This looks nice, but I’d like to hear about the actual gameplay details before I get excited. (And whether it’s subscription-based or not)

  22. undead dolphin hacker says:

    I am f-ing stunned.

  23. Chis says:

    It’s taken long enough, but it finally looks like 3D gaming is moving beyond its initial “silent black and white film” era, into something more accomplished.

    Love does, and will always look, timeless. This game will never age. At least not visually, and that’s rather more important than people realise.

  24. Kim says:

    I want to hump his leg.

  25. Zell says:

    Something like this can get away with turning out, in the end, to be an entirely dysfunctional game, and yet be utterly fascinating. That’s the great advantage of art. A commercial studio that builds a game that doesn’t work has failed. An artist that builds something gorgeous has already succeeded.

  26. Andrew Doull says:

    I think we’ll see more procedurally generated goodness by a single programmer/artist coming out over the next couple of years. It really is scary how easy it is to ramp up a game world using PCG.

    (Obligatory link to a six part article I wrote on the subject).

  27. espy says:

    Brilliant. The idea and the person. Just look at the videos of his self-written 3D-modeler: http://www.quelsolaar.com/loq_airou/manual.html Absolutely amazing. He has this whole suite of self-built developer tools which are all in themselves novel and impressive, from the presentation to the handling to the functionality. I’m completely baffled by this man’s talent.

    Please succeed, I want to give you money.

  28. nabeel says:

    Wow, extremely intriguing. This is my desktop background now.

    Is this the game you recently mentioned as being “the future of PC gaming”?
    nabeel

  29. Indagator says:

    Very nice. I love the look he’s achieved (though I hope any final product will incorporate anti-aliasing…)

    @UncleLou: My favorite part of games is exploring, too. That’s what has me really excited about this, more so than the art (pretty as it is). WoW lost me when I got to the point that I had to grind for hours on end to be able to explore just a tiny bit more of the world.

  30. Okami says:

    @Andrew Doull: I really really really really didn’t like the headline of your article… :P

  31. Krishna says:

    Love is nothing, but Love……………………………………………… Whenever I think about someone whom I love I feel I was born only to meet……………

  32. beeber says:

    Never really played an MMO before…tried one or two and quickly got bored.

    This might just change my mind…

  33. Hoxolotl says:

    Good interview but they missed a few points… First off the screens you are seeing are incredibly animated, those clouds etc change forms, move all over the place, pieces of mist glide over the landscape whilst thinning in place. Second: from what I understood when talking with Eskil at the Blender conference 2007 is that the way he coded things is mostly shaders (cue my jaw dropping on the floor when he showed me). Also he was still “playing” with the concept of what to do with it at the time (october 2007). The neatest thing was the 100% ingame live editor, you could just change and extrude the terrain on the fly making a cliff, then extruding from that cliff to make a bridge. Not only did it look awesome, it also was really light cpu-wise on the laptop he was running it on. I’m still worried this might degenerate his mmo into facebook, but I can’t wait to see it.

  34. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Great. Googly. Moogly. That’s gorgeous.

  35. phuzz says:

    Hardware requirements: 512 meg ram, 1.5 GHz CPU, ATI RAdeon 9800 or better

    blimey!

  36. Fat Zombie says:

    And it has cloth and fog and particle physics, too. That must be one hell of an engine.

  37. James T says:

    Occasionally encounters with human intelligence can be entirely bewildering. Suddenly you’re faced with the fact that other minds move in the same world and speak the same language, and yet have thoughts and intellectual processes going on that are entirely alien – and superior – to your own. That’s certainly how it feels to be shown the work of Eskil Steenberg, while sat at a spare table in a GDC conference hall. Steenberg’s temperamental laptop might not have wanted to help out, but what we saw flickering on that screen was astonishing and somewhat unsettling.

    “Behold… my Goatse desktop!”

  38. Seth Tipps says:

    That’s got to be one elegant code. The thing that has me stumped is the FPS bit. I think of Planetside or WWIIOL when I think of MMOFPS, and though both place you on a team, and you may have to take orders, neither are exactly “Cooperative” as this claims to be. So I expect this to mean a small community with procedurally rendered AI bots to attack your city. But FPS also implies an interface that will pose problems; light on the RPG elements that make a persistent world attractive. There is definitely something unique, and probably beautiful, hidden here. I hope he manages to keep it small. 200 players * $15 a month isn’t bad income for one guy, and he looks to be the kind of Mozart for whom patching and server maintenance is easy as breathing and pleasurable like a certain other instinctual function.

  39. Seth Tipps says:

    Ok, did some more browsing and it looks like he’s using his own open source stuff both as the tool to build the game and run the game, and I don’t just mean this in the obious sense that he designed all of it. If I’m reading this correctly, the game will run through Verse; a tool he designed to allow him to network two graphic editors together so that he could manipulate the same object on several programs in real time. The program is apparently quite efficient, so latency would be quite low if someone were to say, write a compatible rendering engine with only limited editing features.

    The technology he is pioneering makes it possible to run AND EDIT the game at the same time. The game itself could possibly be nothing more than a modified version of the editor, making it possible for him as the developer to interact with the community on a level never before thought possible. Though there is no explicit mention of this on his site, I think it is significant that he tells exactly what he uses to make the game, and draws attention to the ability of the player to interact with the world in a way that like the player is just as much an artist as he is. In any event, the project sounds increasingly trippy and awesome as I go along. Also of note is that he states that he doesn’t care about the learning curve of software.

  40. hoohoo says:

    wow. get this guy in touch with valve before sony or m$ gobble him up for a crappy console game.

  41. dthorpe says:

    Eskil is the real deal. I had the good fortune to work with him for a few months last year when he was helping out CoolIris with the conceptual design of PicLens, a high-impact immersive 3D photo viewer plugin for web browsers (Firefox Win, Firefox Mac, IE). Eskil’s conceptual mockups and prototypes for UI designs were mindblowing and instrumental to helping the PicLens team to think outside the browser box.

    @hoohoo: I don’t think there’s much risk of a megacorp gobbling up eskil. His interest in money is far, far removed from his passion for the art, and he has no patience for corporate nonsense.

  42. Michael says:

    Sign me up! I want to build an underground passageway!!!

  43. Jahkaivah says:

    I am so going to build myself a penis shaped rock.

    http://www.secretlivesofmobs.com/index.php?strip_id=6

  44. Windlab says:

    I like the way the screenshots all look like hand-painted watercolours.

  45. Jahkaivah says:

    By the way, does anyone, have a video of this in action? Would love to see how it plays.

  46. Garreett says:

    Do want.

  47. Gylfi.Fenriz. says:

    Can i please have Another World 2, now ?

  48. Slappeh says:

    Is it just me or does this all look like concept art?

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