E3 2018: Deep-diving Trion’s kid-friendly voxelbox Trove and its upcoming Geode expansion

Let's go blow something up.
One thing Trion Senior Producer James Karras drove home during my meeting with the team at this year’s E3 is that with Trove’s Geode update, the team is experimenting. Yes, Battle Royale is happening, but it’s no threat to the main gameplay. Geode’s new world and its playstyle alone should allay those fears.

Specifically, the team wanted to introduce non-combat gameplay into Trove with planet Geode. It’s about exploration. It’s about helping small animals that are cold, injured, or hungry. It’s about rewarding everyone nearby you when you do good. While the game might seem more grindy, the idea is to give crafter and exploration types something that’s engaging for them, though clearly going out and killing will still be an option. I’m not even a Trove player, but I was quite excited to hear about the team’s design choices this time around.

Playing with non-combat options

MMO players joke about being murder hobos, but it doesn’t always have to be that way: Digging holes, planting gardens, solving puzzles and mazes… games can let us do things we might not be able to do in the real world, and it shouldn’t be limited to pixelated death.

That’s why I was happy to hear that Trion wanted some additional non-violent content specifically for younger players. Even to an adult, that’s appealing. I need a change of pace sometimes. A gaming palate cleanser, if you will. While Trion’s teams are all familiar with their company IPs and change around as needed, titles aren’t shoved into a specific box of limitations. For example, while the more adult-oriented IPs are fine with killing, if Trove’s non-violent content goes over well, and it’s built up and still does well, Trion could potentially bring that sort of gameplay over to, say, RIFT. (Of course, RIFT already has plenty in the form of Dimensions, but wouldn’t you take more?)

Even with the age skew in mind, a lot of test server feedback is from older players. It’s just easier for them to understand how to get on the server itself. It’s nice though, as even though the team is trying to ensure that young players are getting an experience that hopefully engages them in ways that (in my mind) may help our hobby continue to branch out beyond murder sim, there are older kids/adults who are invested enough in that style to test it out and given Trion feedback.

And that idea of new, non-combat content permeates the update. The basic idea is that the denizens of Geode are mostly pacifists, so they’ve called for help. Trion doesn’t want that all to come across in some heavy-handed way, though. There are more NPCs on Geode, and while walking around town, you’ll see and hear them give out bits and pieces of the story while idly chatting.

Into the caves

What was nice about Trion’s demo was that it was actually online. It was obviously on a test server, but seeing an MMO demo that was actually multiplayer and online was great. E3 is notorious among devs for having a poor internet connection, which for foreign developers is also a reminder of how behind the US infrastructure is. Any game that’s online is much more vulnerable to essentially dying on the showroom floor (which is also why I’m particularly critical of how our genre is shown off). Trion made it work, though. Instead of being told about how players might respond to things, I could see it in action, which is a lot easier to get excited about.

Caves are the big thing you’ll have in Geode. It’s not just, “more digging,” but new loot too. For one, you’ll be able to get V-effect blocks. These allow you to add some flare to your buildings, things like cherry blossom petals falling, water dripping, or the totally natural and normal ravelights many nature lovers are drawn to.

While cave spelunking and helping critters, you may find eggs that hatch to become companions, creatures you can raise that give you passive buffs (and skins for your allies). They’re kind of cute, in a blocky kind of way, and again, they go with the theme of doing something fun in a non-violent way.

However, you can’t just go cave exploring and assume the cave acts like any other part in the world. Things are different. You won’t have the big extended jumps you’re used to. To help make up for that, you’ll have modules, abilities you choose before entering a cave that will grant you different abilities. There’s the omni-tool (mining laser), climbing prod (hookshot), barrier generator (shields you from turrets in caves), rocket boots (no explanation needed), path painter (gives you a speed boost and leaves a mark that gives the boost to others too), and the thumper (reveals secret ore caches, etc).

You always have your omni-tool and climbing prod, but you can choose two of the other remaining modules each time you go spelunking (once you’ve unlocked them). Each is also upgradeable. They all use “gas,” a new kind of energy meter that charges your modules and can be found throughout the caves. The nice thing is that many of the modules (like the thumper and path painter) work for everyone nearby. Again, the people around you mining and saving animals also help you get rewards, so it’s not as if you’re losing anything. It really helps enhance the feeling of cooperation, and I saw that in action during the demo, which even semi-surprised the devs.

The caves, like most of Trove, are procedurally generated, but in a unique way. There are pre-built pieces, and the rest of the caves are built around those. One of the big things to look for while exploring are lairs, which will always have a cache of something nice, like crystals or organic materials. You don’t have to focus on those, but they’re a nice bonus for people who really want to dig deep.

Do note, the caves aren’t for fighting, though they’re not totally safe. There are things called turrets that in harder caves will try to take you out, but there’s also something called “bomb flowers.” What’s nice about the flowers is that you can hit them with your climbing prod to move them around and do different things, like blow open a waterfall to spread healing water throughout the level. One thing that holds me back from the game is the graphics, but seeing the effect of the water spreading is still quite impressive and makes me wish I could get over the art style.

There are several kinds of caves, not just in terms of color layout, but available resources, possible companions to find, and of course their layout. Difficulty is naturally a factor too, and you’ll have to look out for turrets trying to stop your exploratory ways. You will also get access to something called mining platforms; they can be used to help get ore in hard to reach places or can be used to block turrets, furthering the idea of peaceful gameplay.

Again, I’m not a Trove player, but I really appreciated Trion’s design execution. Had this been Landmark (RIP), I totally would have been playing it, but I feel even more comfortable recommending the game to families that want to game together. And not just for the cave spelunking – even for the Bomber Royale mode.

Sadly not a Bomberman reference

Game Designer Colin Krausnick made Bomber Royale, not because the company needed a Battle Royale game but because Trove needed a new mode and Krausnick was given freedom to play around. He said it felt like a good fit for Trove, and that immediately confused me until he brought up the point that Trove’s iteration was designed to complement their younger playerbase’s needs.

For example, there’s no fog in BR; the outside edges just slowly disappear. It’s the same idea, but a more solid effect to ensure fast games. Games tend to last 5-6 min, with 7  being the longest Krausnick has seen. While I expected building, Krausnick said that, despite it being part of an early design, it made the games slower. However, there is terraforming: Players can use a rare powerup that lets them change the terrain of a floating island into, say, lava, for the rest of the match.

The game helps even player classes out. You’re not using your normal skills, just sticky bombs (explode on contact) and bouncy bomb, which always bounces once and helps with the general “crazy, random feel.” Again, knowing that younger players may still be developing their fine motor control, the team didn’t want to have to worry about older players headshotting younger players who might not be able to fight back. Bombs have a larger blast radius, helping kids to hit targets. The bouncy bomb may help complement that randomness, but can be used with some skill for trick shots, like hitting people around corners.

Though Krausnick’s avatar was killed by one of the players, the match did seem unlike your typical BR. The fast pace, accessible gameplay, and ability to just jump right into the action certainly made the game fun to watch for me, though it may also be my enjoyment of seeing developers come down to their players’ levels without god-mode enabled.

Trove overall

Naturally, I tried to ask about the overall health of the game while I had some of the developers on hand. For those of you who enjoy the game’s latest class, you probably know you’re not alone. The Vanguardian went over well with players. It’s a very popular class. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean every new class will be like inspired by the formula change you may have experienced with the class. Content, including classes, is developed based on developer passion, not necessarily what’s hot. The Bomber Royale mode was just a happy coincidence. Other classes will be their own thing, as the Vanguardian hasn’t made people give up all the other classes. Certain ones are more popular for certain types of play (especially related to daily tasks).

Speaking of dailies, they certainly have ensured that all aspects of the game are more level. It’s in the data. Bonuses to various types of play have gotten players to do things they might not have done before, and ensuring that people can experience their favorite content with other people also participating.

With MMOs hitting consoles now, I had to ask about platform diversity, but sadly, the devs couldn’t talk about which console has the most hits, but admitted they (predictably) all get love. They’re all considered when making new content, though the PC does still act as the first testing ground.

As some people may know, the game just launched in Japan, and while neither of my dev guides specifically works with the Japanese team, they knew the launch was good. While they have no knowledge of major differences between the regions’ communities, the Japanese publisher, DMM, has asked Trion to make sure Japanese players get the same events as western players, as they’ve proven to be quite popular.

The game seems to be in a pretty good position right now. Maybe Geode seems scary to some players from the outside, but in theory, it sounds good. The test realm players seemed quite pleased from what I saw. Karras and Krausnick’s enthusiasm for the product seemed quite natural, though I’ll still thank them for their time and willingness to discuss Trove and Geode at E3 this year.

Massively Overpowered is on the ground in Los Angeles, California, for E3 2018, bringing you expert MMO coverage on Anthem, Fallout 76, Elder Scrolls Online, and everything else on display at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo!
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