There are a lot of MMOs out there that claim to be sandboxes but none of them are even slightly comparable to what Dual Universe is attempting. Generally, most sandbox games allow players to choose their role within a set of parameters. In EVE Online, you can pick from dozens of different playstyles but you’re still confined to the cold dark of space whether you’re a miner, mercenary, or crafter. Dual Universe, however, is giving players the tools to create anything they want.
The first time I had a look at Dual Universe was E3 2016, and it was more or less still in the concept phase. I got the see the developer fly around a massive planet while discussing their Continuous Single-Shard Cluster technology and limitless potential for player-created content. This year, things are starting to look a little more realistic for Dual Universe, and necessarily so with the pre-alpha becoming available to Gold Backers and above.
The Building Blocks of Civilization
Novaquark has been approaching the development of Dual Universe in a similar manner that the first players in the game will be. In order to build a great civilization, first there needs to be a solid foundation. The same can definitely be said about building a game because if the technology isn’t working correctly then there will be nothing but problems in the future.
The two most unique design choices for Dual Universe are the fully editable world designs and the Continuous Single-Shard Cluster. These will allow an assumedly infinite number of players to interact with each other in a single server where they can harvest, mine, and build upon anything that they can touch. This is being achieved through custom-built technology that focuses on cloud-based scalability and a voxel design system.
However, Dual Universe doesn’t look anything like your typical voxel-based game. It’s visually much closer to something like Landmark, without the limitation of being confined to the planet, than Minecraft. Players will be able to claim their own territories where they can build, gather and set access rights for other players. There also won’t be an issue of running out of player-controlled territories as the planets are massive and should be able to support newcomers for years (depending on how quickly the population grows). Furthermore, there’s no limit on gathering in your zone; technically you could mine all the way to a planet’s core, which would take an incredibly long time.
After all those materials are harvested, there’s basically no limit on what players can create with them. Dual Universe uses 25cm precision voxel technology that allows players to create objects with minute details or massive space stations. Of course, it will be difficult to gather all of the minerals required to created complex machines and players will need to work together to be efficient.
The available demo had a few examples including a player-created room and small spaceship. In order to work correctly, the ship needed a frame, cockpit, landing gear, and engines. Additionally, it used a pre-made physics program that players can even modify with Lua programming. The room was fairly basic, but it had examples of triggers that players could build into their designs, such as pressure plates or laser sensors.
A Place for Everyone
This might sound amazing for players who love crafting and creating grand designs. It’s obvious from other voxel and building style games that given enough time, and resources, players will stretch the limits of a game. However, not everyone is interested in that sort of gameplay. There are explorers, gatherers, fighters, politicians, etc.
While discussing Dual Universe with founder Jean-Christophe Baillie, it became clear that only a small percentage of the population would really be successful at designing and constructing unique creations in the game. However, there will definitely be a role for all types of players and those roles will change and expand as the game goes on.
For example, resources are needed in order to create buildings or vehicles. It won’t be efficient for a single person to run around gathering all the necessary resources for a motorcycle. Instead, crafters will hire people to go out and gather specific minerals or simply buy them from a local market. In order to construct a city, there will need to be people laying blocks and building walls. Furthermore, once something is designed, its blueprints can be sold for mass production.
Due to the true sandbox nature of Dual Universe, the environment on launch will be completely different than what new players experience months or years down the line. The first players will arrive on a barren planet filled with resources and could eventually turn it into a thriving metropolis. Wars will break out, factions will shift power, and new technologies will be introduced. So even if it doesn’t sound like your type of game right now, that could completely change in the future based on how the players have taken it.
To Infinity and Beyond
Initially, players will be confined to the starting planet, but they will be able to leave and explore others once space travel has been developed. Baillie said that the development team will be starting out small because each planet will be custom designed with a certain set of biomes. As of right now, a single planet and moon are in a playable state but he plans to at least have a complete solar system and possibly other systems in the future.
There won’t be an unlimited amount of planets like other games have attempted, because leaving things up to procedural generation can lead to a generic feeling experience. Instead, the team wants each planet to have a feeling of uniqueness.
From what I’ve seen of Dual Universe, it’s definitely an ambitious project but the tools appear to be in place. It’ll be interesting to see what the pre-alpha testers do with it and how the single server holds up. If you want to be one of the first to get your hands on Dual Universe, Novaquark is still accepting pledges with gold-tier receiving access on September 30, 2017.Related: Dual Universe, Gamescom 2017, MMORPG, novaquark, Sandbox