2014: Year of Voxels

A voxel (volumetric pixel or Volumetric Picture Element) is a volume element, representing a value on a regular grid in three dimensional space. This is analogous to a texel, which represents 2D image data in a bitmap (which is sometimes referred to as a pixmap). [Wikipedia]

I’ll be honest and say that I never really paid attention to the term voxel before SOE revealed upcoming EverQuest Next and Landmark this fall of 2013. In my very simplified terms, I understand voxels are basically cubes on a grid for all intents of 3D-gaming purposes and they’re what makes extreme sandbox experiences à la Minecraft possible – although Minecraft is in fact NOT a voxel game and mixing up the two will get you educated swiftly enough in certain corners of the gaming world. I can’t say that I am particularly concerned with the terminologies.

Quite clearly voxels are the new megapixels and everybody has them or if they don’t, well then they’re going to! Five minutes casually spent browsing the Steam store will yield results such as upcoming Forge Quest, Castle Story and Craft the World, alongside Vox which looks a bit like Trion’s upcoming Trove, and let’s not forget Picorama’s somewhat troubled Cube World project. While most are not content to simply copy Minecraft and/or Terraria gameplay at this point, I think we can agree that we’re going to see a lot of randomly generated sandbox crafting worlds in 2014, Year of Voxels.

https://picroma.com/cubeworld

https://picroma.com/cubeworld

I guess it’s understandable that two years into Minecraft’s great success, other developers finally decided it’s time to get a part of Mojang’s cake. As someone who enjoyed MC quite a bit, especially for its high customizability via supported server and client modifications and its community inclusion, I wonder a little how upcoming voxel sandboxes will be faring. No doubt, it’s a great concept for allowing players to go wild at content creation while running on your average PC. Yet, I think the longterm challenges of running a pure, crafting oriented sandbox game, likely online, can be greatly underestimated. Depending on how profitable you would like it to be, anyway. While Minecraft made an impact on this particular market just the way WoW was able to for MMOs, such mainstream debut successes aren’t easily recreated.

There is such a thing as “sandbox fatigue” for the average traditional player who, once basic mechanics have been internalized and the dream house was built, doesn’t really know what to do or where to go from there. Randomly generated maps have a tendency to become a little blah after a while, too. Then, there is the question of how well similar titles can set themselves apart from the competition; like for MMOs, players will likely opt for one or two such games at the most. This is where the degree of freedom offered in each game, combined with innovative play modes or successfully mixing genres in new and fun ways, is going to make all the difference.

Personally, I’m unlikely to jump on the voxel train; I did tolerate Minecraft’s graphics style because as the first of its kind, it’s become an amazing milestone of player creativity. As far as longterm commitment goes however, I like my (online) worlds a little more shiny and less quadrangular, as well as a little less randomly generated. After a few months of going back to Minecraft, I also did find my personal crafting fatigue, but that’s not to say I won’t be watching the voxel trend while playing some hopefully shiny new MMORPGs soon.

So, what about the rest of the MMO sphere – are you excited for any upcoming voxel sandboxes or sticking with your guns, TESO, Wildstar and Co. next year? Or maybe both?

12 comments

  1. I would like to quote myself from a post on August 5th: “I have $5 on [voxels] becoming the newest MMO industry buzzword.” I’m an oracle! ;)

    I like building things in games. If Landmark gives me good building tools, then I’m tentatively on-board (although not as an MMO).

    1. I’m still a bit mystified as to what Landmark wants to be and how they’ll manage the whole transfer with EQN. I am definitely interested in both but yeah, sceptical. pulling off an interesting building game longterm isn’t easy, especially if it’s supposed to be online and social and cooperative and whatnot on top. It’s always fun and games the first few weeks until people get bored and start fading away.

  2. I love that voxels are the new hotness, if only because they were the “new hotness” about 20 years ago. You could do all sorts of rendering techniques with voxels that you couldn’t with polygons back when computing power was significantly less. Granted, now that we have way more computing power, dynamic voxel rendering seems to be taking off, which means things like modifiable terrain and real-time lightning changes are now possible.

  3. The other thing to note, after checking out some of those Steam links, is that not all of the games you linked are voxels, and not all of the games you linked are builder games. Forge Quest, for example, seems to be a Zelda-style game with crafting weapons/armor/etc. but no building, but does use voxels as the rendering technique (along with randomly generated worlds). Craft the World, however, is a building game like Minecraft or Terraria, but doesn’t use voxels at all.

    Still, Forge Quest looked pretty damn neat, and since Cube World seems to be on hiatus, perhaps Forge Quest will fill that void.

    1. Hehe, sorry. ;)

      About your other note: I know that some of the links aren’t pure building games like MC, hence why I wrote “While most are not content to simply copy Minecraft and/or Terraria gameplay at this point”. :) there are different genres and even the building-centric games try avoid being called MC clones (but really Vox, Trove and CW are all very similar). afaik all linked games are voxel games except for Craft the World, you are very right – that one is a Terraria-like, so 2D.

      I expect we will see a lot of both in 2014 – voxel games and/or sandbox construction games, although not always combined.

  4. I love the freedom that the voxel revolution brings but hate how they are just trying to recreate the next big thing but it seems they lack that.. hmm… soul that Minecraft and a few others have.

    Just waiting to see where the next iteration takes us in terms of building in these online worlds of ours

    1. Indeed. it’s easy to underestimate Minecraft: the game has a stunning atmosphere no matter its simple design – and at the same time a complexity and freedom that create much of its appeal. I’m not interested in games that are trying to be similar to that with better colors, there’s no point.

  5. I have a whole raft of problems with this brand new revolution. First there’s the surface. I was never a fan of that blocky look the first time around. It actually creates negative nostalgia in me, the feeling that things were worse in the old days and I never want to go back there again. The over-reliance on primary colors just makes my head ache, too.

    EQNext/Landmark avoids that issue by using a much softer, more finished, animated movie look. Might not be my first choice but I can live with it. EQNext also appears, from what we can glean from the scant details so far, to have an actual, prepared, designed and written world attached, along with some kind of game to play in it, thereby avoiding my major issue with this form of “game”, namely that they’re neither games or virtual worlds at all, just toolkits to *make* virtual worlds and games.

    You might say that “just” is a highly inappropriate qualifier to use in that context; after all, give someone a game and they can play for a day, give them a game-maker and they can make games we can all play forever, right? Well, maybe. Once upon a time I’d have grabbed the toolkit and got down to work but I think those days have gone. I’d rather someone else made the game and let me pay to play it, frankly. And while we *may* get some amazing kitchen-table worlds out of all this, I’ll believe it when I see them.

    In the meantime I’d rather some fairly substantial teams of trained, experienced professionals made me some big, glossy MMOs. I know that hasn’t always turned out so well in the past but it’s kept me amused for a decade and a half and I don’t have too many complaints.

    1. My words – I agree completely. :) making your own content is the best way to experience that making exciting content over longer periods of time is hard work. once you’ve done it, there’s a lot of “seen one, seen them all” involved, for me anyway. I’ve had the full MC experience and I’m over it. what I am really looking forward to in 2014 is beautiful and full package MMOs. I am intrigued about the aspects EQN wants to improve on coming from GW2, such as world events / rallying calls – the whole building affair isn’t my primary interest.

      I also hear you on the “negative nostalgia”. slightly related, I’ve been venting on twitter a bit lately about all the mediocre, uninspired and frankly ugly indie games currently being praised by game journalists as if there was an inherent virtue to 2D pixel graphics. while there’s been some great indie games this year, going the extra mile and exploring interesting and fun topics or gameplay mechanics, a big portion of releases are cheap copies and freeloaders. I have no wish to go backwards to ugly pixels – there’s a reason why games have progressed the way they have. and I LIKE IT.

  6. I love how the word “voxel” sound, but what this stuff concerns, I’m obviously living under a rock. Right now, I’m actually not that excited by anything gamey or digital in particular, in relation to 2014 (sorry voxels!), but I may not be very representative. *points at rock* Thanks for bringing me up to speed, though!

  7. Funny how brains work, I still remember when I first stumbled upon this technology. It was a review of Outcast in a German video game magazine (probably PC Games or GameStar).
    Then apparently I am definitely not fuzzed about graphics enough when I am still absolutely happy with WoW. :)

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