Look, Trion Worlds Is Doing The Whole Voxel Thing Now

Illustration for article titled Look, Trion Worlds Is Doing The Whole Voxel Thing Now

Pixels were great, but they were so two dimensional. Polygons were really cool, but now that developers have to license them directly from the gaming website (they do not), everybody's moving to voxels. Even Rift and Defiance developer Trion Worlds is doing it, with free-to-play online adventure RPG Trove.

While the rest of Trion was busy working on Defiance or getting fired, a small, dedicated team was playing with polygonial pixels. What they've come up with is a combination action-RPG/building tool. Imagine Cube World, only with developers who don't disappear for long stretches unless their bosses tell them to.

Trion Worlds is looking for unparalleled community interaction for Trove, which is one of the reasons you can sign up for the alpha test right now.

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I kind of wish more games would go the 'actual voxel' route. This isn't really voxels, it's just visuals based on a voxel-like art style.

Think of it like pixels, though. A pixel-based game uses sprites, and the pixels on a sprite must move within the pixel grid of the screen/game. If you were to simplify the whole game down to, say, a 16x16 grid of pixels, you'd have 256 giant squares on screen, and all you can do with the visuals is change their color. Pixels cannot move or rotate freely, as they are stuck in place. That IS the limitation of a pixel game. If you up the resolution to a nice 1080p or something and use scaled up pixel art sprites, those sprites can suddenly move 'between' pixels and rotate. They can break the grid, so it's not really a pixel game at that point, just a game using sprites.

Not to be anal about this, but voxels are becoming overused and I've seen very few games that acutally use honest-to-goodness voxels. To understand a 'real' voxel game, you need to define a space, a big, unmoving grid like what you have in Minecraft, and every character, enemy, piece of terrain and so forth must be confined to that grid. You cannot define details that do not fit along the lines of that cubic grid. You cannot rotate or move blocks smoothly. Every space in the voxel grid can be set as on or off, and be a color. And that's it.

So, in essence, a voxel game is like a pixel game but in 3D. Your character moves voxel by voxel and, just like a game using sprites, they animate not by rotation, translation and scaling, but by applying different 'frames' of animation. You might ask what's the point of having such a set of limitations, and wouldn't you have to create a new (or edited) character model for every animation or action they can take. (and the answer is yes on that last one) Imagine a 3D game where you can actively destroy levels or create geometry as you go. Since every voxel that's part of the level could have its own variables and have a way it reacts to and affects things around it, levels could be highly dynamic. A true voxel game would have its own restrictions but those could be very freeing to make it possible to do stuff that most games can't easily do.

I know there are voxel games out there, but they're too rare, and it's much too often that I see games like this, using cubes as no more than a cheap visual style instead. It's like the new pixel art style... everyone's taking a swing at it but few developers seem to genuinely get something new or interesting out of it.