Every time I see and learn more about Dual Universe, I have that feeling that this may be The One. The one I have been waiting for. The one that lets my sandbox dreams run wild and unfetter my creativity. The one that feels like a glorious merging of Landmark and Star Citizen. I am so excited that this may be the game I can delve into and build that virtual life/operation/empire that has been waiting so long to be realized. And recently, I got to see and learn more. I sat down with Baptiste Agati, game designer, and Olivier Derache, marketing & PR manager, for an interview and demo of the space sandbox’s almost alpha 1 build that opens its doors today. And yes, it all made me much more excited.
What’s new? Plenty. Since the last time we spoke, Derache said the team has been dedicated to making a full gameplay loop. As the rest of the Alpha 1 players join in, they’ll get to enjoy the changes to planetary scale and ship build size (bigger is better!), the starter world’s biomes, and the new user experience, and revamped flight mechanics (yay for rocket boosters, crafting, and a new achievement system.
Bigger is better
Part of my dream gaming involves large transports and group endeavors, starting the demo on a big ship out in space was pretty spot on. And this was a good-sized ship; it measured 128 meters long, which is the current max. Agati, however, indicated that the team expected that that will expand to 225 meters and maybe even beyond fairly rapidly.
The bridge was filled with consoles, with numerous screens both static and programmed with Lua showing ship stats. We knew that was happening, but it was still cool to see it arrayed out. Nothing on this ship looked or felt voxely or slapped together; it was smooth, crisp, and looked every bit a mesh-made ship. Then we moved down to the hangar bay (by destroying a chunk of flooring no less for faster relocation), the space where more dreams amped up. Here sat multiple completely independent ships made by other that can take off and fly on their own. Agati also pointed out that there was plenty of space to build other ships, helicopter, hovercrafts, and such during those long flights through space — as long as you remembered to bring enough materials aboard!
We then hopped into one of those little ships and took off for the starter planet below. I have to say, heading from orbit down to the surface is quite an experience as the massive planet looms closer and closer. But the fun had only just started.
With the rest of the Kickstarter backers joining this Alpha, the new starter experience is going to be put to the test. There is definitely room and resources and then some for everyone; we’ve talked about the massive scale of this and other planets before, but now this starter one is twice the size it used to be! And Agati noted that the biomes have all been redone. The new players will still spawn on the Ark ship right there and the starter planet in a little dev-made town.
A welcome addition to this starting area is access to a the market and the materials to build their first basic hoverbike. This allows players the chance to participate in the economy from the get go as well as to roam and explore (and mine things to sell!). As much as I like the sandbox goodness of making your own way and your own gameplay, having that tiny boost in the very beginning is a great idea, allowing players to participate and get hooked in. Agati agreed: “We don’t want them to go out into the world completely naked. We want them to have a little bit of something inn order to spread out, be able to join their friends, and be able to explore a bit and find territories they like.”
But be warned, that your first ration of gas is the only freebie handout you get! If you run out in the middle of nowhere you are on your own. Also, driving takes a little work and skill, as demonstrated by the dev who ran along a terraformed terrain road and then smacked into the side of a building, “parking” it at an unintentional angle on the wall. The proof of said parking job is provided right here!
While it’s not necessarily at the beginning part of the starter experience, I was also quite excited about the new territory scanner that is being introduced. This piece of equipment that players can use will scan the ground of the hex it is on and list the makeup of the hex. Of the 20 resources in the ground, you will know exactly what percentage of what this hex is made of. Even better, you can print up the schematic of this into a tradeable, shareable, sellable item — with location coordinates! Prospecting is very much a possible career. Explore, learn whats around, and make money from that info? No, doesn’t sound like me at all. Nope. Of course, you could mine it yourself. Realize if you didn’t secure your territory and just set up shop out in the wilds, you, your scanner, and your mine can totally be raided.
Derache then shared another change to the starting experience — a move away from a long, more hand-holdy tutorial intro to an achievement system. This gives players a goal for an excuse/incentive to try all the features in the game but at the time of their own choosing. The achievement screen will give players insight into all the different features and activities that can be done in game as well as some hints on how to do them. “We wanted to sort of pull back a little on the hand-holding,” Agati said, “and let players discover and explore and sort of figure out stuff for themselves.”
When you have to make your way in the world quite literally, crafting is an important part of the game. While crafting has not reached its final form in Dual Universe, this first version releasing today already impressed to me. The UI itself is also in progress, but all the mechanics are there. All possible recipes that a player can use are in this extensive — but very searchable — list. When you select the list, it shows all the subcomponents you need to craft and if you are missing any. What I found very awesome was the fact that you didn’t have to go back to that main list to look up what you need to make any parts — you just click the part in the crafting interface and it pops up a new tab of that part. You can then go down to the basic level of a part, queue it to make, and queue all the other pieces in the line. Once that’s complete, the crafting will automatically will start in on the other order with that newly made part.
Thinking back to that first hoverbike you made, thanks to the crafting you can now use resources and parts you craft to soup that baby up with an impressive new engine (Which, is exactly what we did during the demo and likely what led to the creative parking job!)
Remember that this is only the first iteration of crafting. Agati called it the team’s “crafting bootstrap.” Dual Universe is definitely not just about hand-crafting. It is expected that many players will want to create in larger quantities. Workbenches and even factories are planned to make a large, full-scale production systems. With the linking system, players will be able to chain nearby factories together with the linking system so that the product of one funnels its parts into another that uses the parts to make something else to create some heavy industry.
Another bit of crafting we checked out was a radar that thanks to Lua programming wasa live, working instrument. Of course, Agati emphasized that players do not need to know how to program to use these items in game, but for those who do and want to create these scripts, coding is another possible job in the game. “We think that’s pretty cool to have sort of an in-game/out-of-game profession that people can specialize in, and can market in game and make profit off it,” he said. Derache pointed out that much can be done with just the drag-and-drop linking system, from simple to more complex. Then Luca coding could offer even more complexity.
Getting in to play
So who is getting in to play and when? MOP already covered the announcement of the alpha invite waves that will be heading out now, but Novaquark has also provided a release roadmap that players that you see below. Will you be trying out the game? Even though wipes will definitely be a thing (don’t fret, you get to make blueprints of everything you create), I personally can’t wait to play, and I seriously can’t wait to share via livestreams on OPTV. That, however, will not happen until the NDA lifts. And that, my friends, isn’t now. Soon, though; soon there will be a rebirth of the Golden Yacht.