What is a Voxel?

What is a Voxel?

You’ll hear the word “voxel” bandied about by EverQuest Next Landmark developers and fans, but what exactly is a voxel and why is it so important to EverQuest Next and Landmark?

“Voxel” comes from combining the words “volumetric” and “pixel.” (Fun fact #1: “Pixel” combines the words “picture” and “element.”) So, you might say that a voxel is a volumetric picture element, or a visual representation of something that has volume. But in the simplest terms, it’s a 3D cube.

In Landmark, the smallest voxel is larger than you might imagine, especially if you’ve been thinking in tinier terms like pixels. A single pixel forms a barely visible two-dimensional square on your monitor screen, but the smallest voxel in Landmark is actually a good bit larger--closer in scale to the size of a character’s (oversized) foot. (Fun fact #2: Dave Georgeson has remarked that the SOE dev team refers to the smallest sized voxel as “Ted.”) In Landmark, voxels are scalable. Players place voxels using the Stamp tool, and scale them in size using their mouse scroll wheel.

Placing the smallest sized voxel - aka Ted.

Before the Voxel

Voxels have been around for a while (since the 90s), but only since Minecraft’s surprise, runaway success have they gained recognition as the next big thing in game design. Recently, more voxel-based games have come onto the scene, including Cube World and Trion’s newly announced Cube World lookalike, Trove.

The majority of our current video games and MMOs, however, are rendered in polygons--a series of lines connecting X, Y, and Z coordinates in space. Rather than get into a lengthy, detailed description of the voxel’s alternative, I’ll let How Stuff Works explain polygons if you’re inclined to learn more.

Before the polygon, we had 2D games rendered in pixels. (If you remember playing Space Invaders on your Atari and being impressed by the advancing hordes of pixelfied bad guys, come stand over here next to me and the other old farts.)

How EverQuest Next and Landmark Utilize the Voxel

In EverQuest Next Landmark, players can stack, scale, paint, delete and shape voxels to suit their purposes. Using the Smooth tool will smooth edges and allow players to create everything from an eroded, weathered look to a perfect sphere. The Line tool creates angles between two player-selected points, allowing for the seamless creation of things like roof lines and pyramidal shapes. Just because building in Landmark utilizes blocks doesn’t mean that everything’s blocky ala Minecraft. Landmark has taken voxel technology and kicked it up to 11.

Landmark is SOE’s MMO based on building and exploration, and the voxel plays a starring role. EverQuest Next - a more traditional MMO based on adventure, story and combat - will take place in a world made up of voxels. (Through Landmark, players will be able to contribute virtual creations to EverQuest Next.) In both Landmark and EverQuest Next, voxel technology will allow for fully destructible buildings and terrain.

EverQuest Next and Landmark use the Voxel Farm engine. (Read more in this interview.)

Comedian Steven Wright once said, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.”  In Landmark, it’s a huge virtual world that you’ll not only want to paint but build on, tunnel under, shape and more. 

Do you have a suggestion for Term of the Week? Send it to shayalyn@tentonhammer.com.

About the Author

shayalyn's picture

Karen became hopelessly hooked on EverQuest when she wandered into Norrath for the first time, immediately fell off one of the Kelethin platforms, and had to ask a Bard to find her mangled corpse. She's gained a few skills since, and logged more hours than she cares to count playing all kinds of MMOs. The EverQuest franchise remains her favorite. Relying on her druidic wisdom, she pens a weekly column, Ask the Druid, every Thursday. Send your questions to her at shayalyn [at] tentonhammer.com.