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.
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?