Preview: Dual Universe demos alpha 2’s player economy, solar system, and space stations

Plus our interview with Novaquark's Olivier Derache and a tour of a ship's... bathroom.


You know that feeling when you follow a game’s development and it just keeps getting better and better? I don’t mean the promises of what’s to come but the reality of what’s already there. That’s how I feel about Dual Universe every time I get to sit down with Novaquark and talk about that is happening in the game. From my first introduction to the game at PAX West 2017 to my subsequent sit-down conversations with devs in pre-alpha and alpha 1, I’ve watched this universe develop from something I am excited about into something I can’t wait to play live and share with you all. But since the alphas thus far are under NDA, the only time I can really share my enthusiasm is when I get to chat with the devs during an interview. And that’s exactly what I just did, so I’ve got some good stuff to share.

Dual Universe is deep into its alpha 2 test that began in July, but that doesn’t mean its 15k testers have seen everything yet! There is much more to come in this voxel virtual world space sandbox. We don’t mean just in alpha 3, beta, and beyond, either: There’s still more to come right here in alpha 2. As I spoke with Olivier Derache, marketing and PR manager for Novaquark, we discussed the current state of the game and upcoming features as he showed many of them off. In a nutshell, alpha 2 is all about the economy. But it is also about better ships, space stations, improved planets, and more.

Economy is everything

Derache emphasized that the main focus of alpha 2 was the market and the economy. Way back in the first PAX interview I highlighted the devs’ player-driven economy philosophy. That has never changed. At that time, President and Founder of Novaquark Jean-Christophe Baillie explained that markets would be physical places where players went to buy goods they need but didn’t want to find/mine/craft themselves. As Derache demonstrated during our interview, alpha 2 is the realization of that goal.

Although in its basic form, the market terminals are in the game, giving players a place to sell their goods for other players to purchase. And Derache emphasized that every single item on the market is “made by players, sold by players, and bought by players.” It doesn’t matter if it’s been mined or made; everything on the market is there because of players. He likened the market to a miniature version of Wall Street: Fluctuations, prices, and the economy will all be based on the market. Currently, the only physical market terminals in game are created and placed by the devs in a location, but players will be able to create and place them in the future. Derache noted that the team hopes that’ll make it into alpha 3, but no promises can be made.

Fun with factories

The next part of the preview was really exciting: Derache showed off automation in a factory! Those who have played games that let you produce items in bulk can appreciate how much better it is to mass produce both parts and final products. But unlike in other set-ups — Star Wars Galaxies, for example — in Dual Universe you can automate the entire production line. No more moving items from one factory to the next for each successive step. Here, you connect with pipes, set the programming, and you can have every step happen automatically, from refining the metal/material for each component to assembling all of the completed parts into one whole to placing the final product into a container ready to ship and sell.

It doesn’t end there. You can also use the linking and lua programming to set up an at-a-glance factory board showing you which parts are active and working and which aren’t. You can monitor production at a simple screen instead of weaving your way throughout the factory floor clicking on everything.

Why are factories so awesome for those who want to craft? Because you can create your wares in bulk whether you are in the game at the moment or not. Face it, if people had to spend the individual time to hand make every single component for a complex item, everything would be rare and prohibitively expensive. Also, I don’t think many crafters want to spend all their game time like that! Your factory can be cranking out your ship parts while you are out exploring and mining new minerals. That’s the life for me!

Physics and other fun facts

Not everything I learned can fit into a category related to to the market, so here are a number of fun facts about physics and other facets of Dual Universe’s alpha 2.

This first one is related to the market: Your ship’s movement is affected by weight! Derache demonstrated how a transport vehicle laden with goods would crawl along even at full throttle due to the weight of the goods on board. Additionally, he showed how inertia continues to move the ship along after the engines are cut. Those are some things folks are going to have to account for when transporting.

I was reminded that there will be special solar system beacons players can place once they have traveled to and discovered another planet or moon. These will act as warp drive zip lines allowing for faster travel between those two points. Derache noted that players can give permissions to others to use these, but the owners who made that initial trip and placed the beacon are the only ones who can use them otherwise. He told me that this feature will be in the game by the time it launches.

Speaking of travel, Derache noted how many player testers have found flying to be too hard. Novaquark did not want to turn this feature into a simple arcade system, so flying wasn’t simplified – but it was improved in alpha 2. Wings, rocket boosters, and fins were added to make plane models easier to fly and maneuver (as opposed to sticking an engine on any old block of voxels and flying like I was show at PAX!). This way flying fit the physics of flying. Derache also explained that players can now use lua to customize the cockpit of the ship; players can customize what readouts appear in the cockpit using a menu to select items (no coding necessary).

One stop on our tour was a nice seaside beach. Derache showed off the new water, which has waves and motion. It is very pretty, but it is only a visual and not a solid thing. Players can walk under it and make themselves an underwater base. Don’t worry, you can’t drown or suffocate in Dual Universe. Unfortunately, it also means water cannot be harvested and used in your own building projects. That means no fountains or waterfalls for me. At least that is a feature Derache said the devs are thinking about. Maybe in the future!

In regard to crafting, I asked about the possibility of salvaging instead of outright destruction to get rid of items. For now, you can’t. There is no way to deconstruct an item and get any material components back. Seeing as resources could very well be depleted (such as no more wood after everything is deforested since nothing respawns or regrows), I suggested that being able to salvage and get back a percentage of materials could be a great way to recycle things as well as let folks feel free to be more creative without wasting all their time and effort. Derache stated that there will most likely be a salvaging feature by launch, but it may not give stuff back. He is actually taking the idea to the team, so fingers crossed!

And one final fun fact: The atmosphere is now filled with 3-dimensional volumetric clouds! You can have your own burst-through-the-clouds moment as you fly.

A smaller solar system

When I first was introduced to Dual Universe, the idea was to have a massive universe that just kept procedurally generating, where players could just keep traveling farther out. However, through development time and feedback, that plan has changed. Derache shared that now the solar system itself is smaller and contained, but the planets themselves are larger. This offers more landmass and area for folks to play on and explore. For instance, he described how the starter planet is now the size of England. The fact was that most people wanted to play with friends, and they wanted to be able to meet up with those friends — not spend weeks trying to travel to them. Travel from one end of the solar system to the other can still take days of travel, but it isn’t indefinite.

Derache emphasized that that does not mean Dual Universe is limited to the scope of this single solar system. He explained that new solar systems could continue to be added in for more room. It could be that the game even launches with more than one. And of course, the new planets will continue to be procedurally generated.

Speaking of the planets, there is now a variety of biomes on the planets. We checked out frozen mountainous areas, dry savannas, greenlands, and wooded forests. However, neither animals nor wildlife exist on the planets, either on land or in the waters. There isn’t really any other flora, either, other than those trees you destroy to get wood. Derache said that the team would like to add that in, but it would be something that would happen as a big update after launch if it does. It needs way too much to develop it and it isn’t a priority now. He did say that if Dual Universe was commercially successful, the team would love to have a biome teaming with life.

Space stations incoming!

Derache noted that while players have heard about the upcoming space stations, they haven’t seen them in game yet. They will! Derache stated they are planned for release soon in alpha 2; they just need to be balanced first. He then took me for a tour of one constructed on the dev demo server that we were using for the preview.

When they release, space stations will have some size limitations for creating; players can build them to either 120 or 256 meters long. This isn’t as small as it might sound: It’s bigger than our own ISS. As we toured it, there were multiple landing docks, quite a few ships, and a huge interior. All the ships that were docked were models created by players, devs just used blueprints to create them on this demo server. One ship in particular was fun to tour — it was very functional as well as fun and RP friendly. Why would Derache say that? Well, because of the perfectly designed bathroom included on the ship! (No, biological functions are not a necessity in Dual Universe.) Looking at all the smooth lines it’s hard to remember sometimes that everything is made out of voxels, not meshes.

Want another fun fact? Because it is all one seamless universe, you can actually see large structures on the planet from the space station or your ship blasting off! Yes, we tested that and it worked well.

PvP for 3!

Each testing phase has had a specific focus according to Derache. In the pre-alpha, the goal was to ensure that everything would be editable. Alpha 1 was focused on crafting, and the current alpha 2 is all about the economy and the market. For alpha 3, the focus will be on PvP.

You might have noticed a theme of each alpha building up to the next one. It makes sense that PvP would follow the ability to make and transport goods — that’s just the perfect invitation for piracy, is it not?

Don’t forget: Those who are uninterested in PvP or PvP all the time can still settle on sanctuary moons and be safe from it. They won’t have access to the best materials except through the market (more risk understandably gets more reward), but they will never be subject to losing anything on that property. Folks who live on a sanctuary moon can still venture out into the rest of the solar system, but it will always be when they choose. As Derache said, they can leave anything they don’t want to lose in the safety of their sanctuary base and venture out and experience as much or as little PvP as they want.

When will you see this PvP? Derache said that the team will still be working on it for months. Alpha 3 is expected to hit around December or January. He then told me that the plan is for beta to launch six months after that. The best part of beta will be that the NDA will drop, and I’ll be able to stream and share Dual Universe adventures with you all.

But before we reach that beta, we’ll have alpha 3 and the PvP — and another preview showing that off. To that Derache exclaimed, “And for the next demo, we fight!”

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