Massively OP Interview: Dual Universe demo shows off advances in city building, space travel

    
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When you work in video games, you often get asked what new titles you are looking forward to. While experience has been teaching me to temper my enthusiasm, I do have one that I’m excited to play. I first got to experience Dual Universe in-person at PAX West last September, and since then I’ve been eagerly anticipating its release! Why? That title pretty summed it up well: It’s a persistent, seamless, sandbox universe. More than that even, it is a hotbed of creativity thanks to its voxel foundation. So I’ve had a taste of what can happen in a world that customizable, and I hunger for more!

That meeting with Jean-Christophe Baillie, the president and founder of NovaQuark, was seven months ago. How has development been coming along since then? How does the game look today? I got to sit down with Baillie for an update on progress and a new tour through the universe a few weeks ago. In my first demo, I saw promise. This time, I saw more of that promise realized.

During our conversation, I have to say Baillie spoke music to my ears. He emphasized a point that I wish more devs would embrace. He said, “We can’t have it all.” Yes, there might be features that are cool to have, but Baillie is not afraid to leave out those that do not fit into Dual Universe or that will detract from the quality of the experience.

“There are some technical compromises that need to be done. Why? Well to have a single shard universe where you can build anything you want,” he explained. “The point is to really try to make sure that what is not absolutely necessary to the gameplay and the game experience is taken out of the picture so that you can have a good experience in any situation.”

Basically, if it supports the fluidity of the game, then it’s worth giving up. “Right now we’re trying to find the balance between the technical limits and the gameplay that makes sense for players,” Baillie told me. “Our job as a company is to make sure it works fluidly, that you have the right tools, and that the performance is fine. And for the rest, I totally trust the community.”

Just add players

That community is already up and running. Perhaps the most significant change since that first meeting, at least according to Baillie, is the addition of players to the game. There are already over 900 organizations founded for the game, and around 3,000 players are actually currently taking part in testing. The working demo last year was impressive, but the influx of alpha testers has seriously upped the creativity factor as well as provided the devs with important data and feedback for development.

Just how much creativity are we talking about? In our afternoon tour we traveled to various planets and moons (there are 12 now), checking out a number of various bases and ships. We perused underground builds, mountaintop builds, and waterfront builds, from castles to cathedrals to outposts to mega bases. We even visited a player-build city (one of the specific events devs requested to test specific features). We also saw ships of various sizes, including what appeared to be attempts to make a sandcrawler-like vehicle fly. It was a wonderful taste of the creativity that will be covering more of the solar systems soon. Baillie noted that he was seeing some of the builds in our travels for the very first time, and for him that’s a major asset of DU; he loves being surprised, and this game offers new things to discover constantly. That is something I am really looking forward to as well.

I fully admit that one of my favorite things to do will be exactly that: traveling the universe and admiring all the creations. If only I could travel at the speed of god-mode that Baillie was using during the tour, which is significantly faster than players can move (we made a five-hour trip in just a couple of minutes!). I could cover so much ground and show off so much player creativity in a single stream. Then again, that mode have one major drawback: rendering. Because of our speed of approach, all of the builds and ships couldn’t render fast enough and were jagged blobs until we gave them each some time to fully pop in. I asked about this rendering issue and was assured that it wasn’t a problem at players’ speeds (with the exception of the giant city that is still being worked on). Baillie is confident that even that will be smoothed out.

“Apart from the city, which is something we are working on (and we have very very good hopes that we are going to fix it) — apart from that everything is totally fluid already,” he told me, noting that there might need to ultimately be a limit to how much construction can happen in a specific volume of space to maintain that, but he doesn’t think it will get to that point.

Speaking of limits, there are a few already. For instance, players cannot stack a million office chairs in a space to create a lag trap. As Baillie emphasized, “We will have limits that make sense from the creative standpoint, but will still prevent someone [from] trying to create sort of a lag ship — something that flies near you and just lags you.”

Building more than a world

Being able to physically build isn’t the sole purpose of Dual Universe. Baillie stressed to me that the game is about the content that the players make — the political intrigues, the economy, and the stories. “It’s not just about building stuff, building spaceships or cities, etc.,” he said. “It’s also building the stories, building what people are going to fight for, whom you’re going to join with as a gamer — what kind of agenda you are going to stick to.” Put succinctly, “It isn’t just building structures; it is building social structures and goals.”

On that front, development has already advanced on both the building and the scripting sides of the game. Coming up next is an engine revamp that includes rocket engines and wings to fly in the atmosphere. After that is new gameplay for scanning for resources and the first version of the market system. As noted in our previous interview, players have to travel to the sale location to buy goods. Baillie expounded on the market system, explaining that the range that other players can see your wares for sale will depend on the range of the seller’s market scanning skills and equipment. Sellers will be able to link stuff together to link to form larger markets with a longer reach.

Of course, there is a cost to running the market, and the larger the market, the more expensive it will be. Players will place and maintain the markets themselves; there are no NPCs making or controlling markets in any way. These markets include actual containers set up with the physical goods, or empty ones to accept the goods you have listen on buy orders. NPC bots will, however, sell the recipes on the marketplace that players will need to build decorations and such; finished products will ultimately be made and sold by just players.

What follows that on the development plan? Baillie said that crafting itself may be the next big step. (At the moment, players just have inventories full of unlimited items for testing purposes, but that will disappear as soon as markets are introduced and used.) He believes that DU’s crafting will be one of the most complex systems players have seen in gaming; it is designed to sustain the activity of thousands of players for years. )He also admitted that the UI is not very nice and that the team needs to work on it.)

A few other nifty things that might be in the mix: allowing players to name planets they discover, the ability to rename bookmarks/waypoints of base and resource locations, and turning decorative lockers into actual storage containers.

This land is my land

Of course, building and land ownership are a major component of the game. And Baillie noted that his devs have read and listened to what many MOP commenters have said: They want the option to build creatively without the fear of having it destroyed by PvP. Back during our first interview, Baillie remarked that there would likely be additional safe zones beside the one spot around the game entry point. That has come to pass. I can confirm that a large moon in game with 20-30,000 land tiles is already designated as a sanctuary. That means that no one can take a property tile away or damage the contents of it. It should be noted that current plans are for players to only own one tile on a sanctuary planet or moon, while they can own multiples on other open planets (though owning many becomes increasingly more expensive). Other sanctuaries are planned for other solar systems.

Speaking of not losing builds, there will be a wipes before the game is launched, but folks will be given a blueprints of their builds and ships so they will not lose their designs. They will, however, need to reacquire the materials/resources to rebuild. Baillie emphasized that “no information will ever be lost.” That even includes ships lost in battle; if your ship is blown up, you can rebuild it from the snapshot that is taken of the ship before it was destroyed so that you can rebuilt it and include all modifications and upgrades.

Something players may not realize is that a land claim goes all the way to the core of the planet. This gives plenty of space to build underground as well as in the air (you can utilize flight for construction on your tile) or even just mine on your own property — just remember that resources do not respawn! If you are really lucky, perhaps your property will have one of the rare artifacts that players can discover and learn more about.

On the subject of mining and resources, Baillie noted that there are currently no animations for gathering resources like chopping trees (right now it just disappears from when you edit the landscape), but there are some in an internal build for the next release. He then reminded me that resources are finite, and things like wood — a surface-only resource — will become more scarce as time goes on. With this in mind, I asked about the possibility of replanting or farming. Baillie is for the idea, but it may not be feasible. He said,

“I would like to, but there are technical constraints behind that. Because imagine if you plant millions of trees everywhere, you basically have to remember all the positions of all the trees. Whereas in [the current] case, all the positions of the trees are calculated implicitly in the formula so you don’t have to store them.”

Baillie explained that it doesn’t cost anything for the engine to know where a procedurally generated tree was when it’s placed, but storing the information of planted trees could be overwhelming. Could designated areas or specific farming plot items for bases help the situation? It could, but it isn’t an obvious answer and would need lots of work. It’s all about scaling according to Baillie; it has to work with millions of people there in game. No matter what, it isn’t something that could come for the first release.

Odds and ends

Our tour and interview covered bits and pieces of many other subjects. Here’s a quick run-down of some of those points in no particular order.

We discussed how each player gets a resurrection node to place somewhere, the location of which can make a difference strategically. We talked about how devs will start vetting what players want to place on the html browser screens in-game (to avoid inappropriate or trademarked content). We touched on combat and how it is more likely going to be a lock-and-fire mechanism where nothing will actually fly through the air and damage will be calculated by perimeters such as distance.

Ramming won’t be a thing! When you bump into buildings, they will just bump. Nothing happens as there is no collision or damage. So no, people will not be able to throw a bunch of ships at the walls of an enemy to make them crumble. Why? “Because if you start to calculate collision, destruction, and all those things in real time,” Baillie explained, “then you have a problem because once somebody decides to take 100 ships and throw them at a building you explode the capability of the server.”

Perhaps one of the most appreciated comments that I hope the devs really do pull off is their claim of absolute neutrality in Dual Universe. Baillie stated that when there is a lot at stake for organizations that are fighting for supremacy, he wants to guarantee that no employee is allowed to get secret information that could sway anything.

We’d like to thank Baillie and the team for giving us a fresh look at the game!

Click to read latest press release
With Dual Universe, Players Start to Design the Entire Universe From the Ground Up: Using editable voxels, Novaquark empowers its Pre-Alpha community to take on the role of level designer as they terraform the universe, build complex outposts from scratch, and lay the foundations for Dual Universe’s future

PARIS, FRANCE – April 11, 2018 – Following hot on the heels of the recent launch of Supporter Packs, Novaquark is excited to share its latest trailer for Dual Universe, showcasing the incredible freedom and depth of creation available to its community. By using the game’s editable voxel tools, the resulting structures built by the players during the ongoing pre-alpha represent an early look at what new players can expect to encounter as they dive into this ambitious, large-scale sci-fi sandbox for the first time.

While the term “voxel” tends to evoke images of cube-shaped building blocks, Dual Universe delivers a proprietary voxel engine that affords players much more control in manipulating the world – and universe – around them. At a simple level, players can place and manipulate fully editable blocks that come in all shapes and sizes as they build canyon-filling cities or spaceship fleets. For players who want to get a little more granular, this voxel engine allows them to terraform at will, carving away at a planet’s surface, and digging complex cave systems that could one day house an organization’s base of operations.

Whether they’re building a single structure on a small scale or working together to forge an entirely new civilization on a massive scale, Dual Universe’s tools empower players to build however they want. Novaquark simply sets the rules and establishes the universe, but everything that grows, falls, is rebuilt, and shared within this universe is and will always be a community-constructed endeavor.

This power to create is only heightened when combined with Novaquark’s innovative CSSC technology (continuous single-shard cluster), which allows the game’s entire player base to exist in one single persistent universe, seamlessly weaved together with no loading screens to create an ever-evolving sci-fi metaverse. Developed alongside the vision of Novaquark founder, scientist, and Artificial Intelligence expert Jean-Christophe Baillie, Dual Universe is an ambitious civilization-building MMO that seeks to push the boundaries of community involvement, allowing its players to quite literally shape the universe others will join from the ground up, all thanks to the power of voxels and human creativity.

Dual Universe is available now in Pre-Alpha. In addition to being the 3rd biggest worldwide Kickstarter of 2016 for a video game, it earned over one million dollars in funding on both Kickstarter and its official website, and boasts a vibrant community of over 10,000 backers and almost 1,900 in-game organization communities. For the latest updates visit the official website, and you can also follow the game on Twitter, Facebook, Community Discord, Reddit, and YouTube.

About Dual Universe
UNIVERSE (available in test version): The first fully editable universe made for players by players. The only limit is your imagination! Gather your friends and build on a truly epic scale, from ships, cities and space stations, to Lua scripted puzzles and interactive constructs.
MASSIVE (available in test version): Dual Universe is the first game where potentially millions of players can interact together simultaneously, inside the same giant universe. We call it the Continuous Single Shard Cluster (CSSC) technology. This proprietary technology means no multi-server player separation, instances or loading times, just one enormous, persistent universe.
EXPLORATION (partially available in test version): Explore & Discover new worlds with your friends, find rare resources and build the greatest place in the universe. Will you be a nomad treasure hunter, or a calculating profiteer?
ECONOMY (work in progress): Dual Universe will have the most realistic economy system ever made in a game. From weapons and tools, to spaceships and giant space stations, build and trade everything to everyone – at your price – on your own market.
WARFARE (work in progress): Fight for supremacy, resource control or geostrategic advantage, as you join with fellow players and create your own defense systems, build warships, cities and space stations. Will you defend yourself or lay waste to your enemies?
POLITICS (work in progress): Be a lone wolf or choose an organization or build your own, hire new players, fight other alliances, cut deals with them or rule your own part of the Universe with this completely open political landscape, full of emergent gameplay opportunities.

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Kevin McCaughey

It looks like everything The Repopulation should have been. I bet those guys are sick right now.

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Solaris

I backed this. i’m extremely happy with progress.

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Armsman

From the article:

Ramming won’t be a thing! When you bump into buildings, they will just bump. Nothing happens as there is no collision or damage. So no, people will not be able to throw a bunch of ships at the walls of an enemy to make them crumble. Why? “Because if you start to calculate collision, destruction, and all those things in real time,” Baillie explained, “then you have a problem because once somebody decides to take 100 ships and throw them at a building you explode the capability of the server.”

^^^
So I ask, exactly how do players ‘fight for supremacy’ when nothing you create can be destroyed? It may as well be a version of Second Life (unless I’m misunderstanding something.)

gylnne
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gylnne

Nice article MJ. Thank you for mentioning this game last night in your stream. I had a chance to take a look around their website. Looks very promising and something that interests me.

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Space Captain Zor

I read the whole thing and I’m left with a feeling that this dev has not completely thought through a lot of the things they’re saying. This paragraph in particular has me scratching my head:

Being able to physically build isn’t the sole purpose of Dual Universe. Baillie stressed to me that the game is about the content that the players make — the political intrigues, the economy, and the stories. “It’s not just about building stuff, building spaceships or cities, etc.,” he said. “It’s also building the stories, building what people are going to fight for, whom you’re going to join with as a gamer — what kind of agenda you are going to stick to.” Put succinctly, “It isn’t just building structures; it is building social structures and goals.”

The politics of players screwing around with you building stuff?
The economy of stuff you need to build more stuff?
The stories of what/where the stuff you built came from and how it got destroyed by players because the best planets/moons to build on of course won’t be the sanctuaries if history teaches us anything about game developers?

Mm hmm. All of that reads like a veiled description of “emergent pvp gankbox gameplay” imo, which unfortunately seems to be the only thing developers can come up with lately for non-themepark online games–CIG included. I really wish this industry would put the brakes on this crap.

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?Atmosph3rik?

I would read up a bit more on the game before jumping to any conclusions.

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Space Captain Zor

I’ve read quite a bit about this project, but thanks for your… advice? My opinion on how it looks has yet to be swayed.

deekay_plus
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deekay_plus

some good stuff. they seem to be making solid progress and mindful of stuff that is important to be mindful of. or at least paying lipservice to that.

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Oleg Chebeneev

So this game is all about flying around and “admiring creations”? Or there is some kind of content outside building?

deekay_plus
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deekay_plus

ayyyy lmao.

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Oleg Chebeneev

What? Was a honest question

deekay_plus
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deekay_plus

okay

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?Atmosph3rik?

read the article silly