Xulu Universe is a game with big ambitions to set the MMO space on its ear. With amazing builder tools, the ability to create nearly anything imaginable, to be able to share created spaces with millions of other players and to be able to do it all for free is something quite unique and something that CEO Nancy Soloman and CTO Joe Santos are committed to providing.
I recently had the opportunity for a quick guided tour of Xulu Universe led by Nancy and Joe themselves. When we first logged into the starting space, one of the first things I noticed was that the game world went on and on into the distance. Towers barely could be seen over on the horizon, clouds dotted the sky, air ships sailed off and could be watched until they were minute pinpoints in the distance. It’s amazing to see. Part of the reason that this can happen is that Xulu Universe runs on a hybrid server base. Part of the game world is hosted on the developer’s server set and the rest through peer-to-peer sharing. This, according to Joe, enables real time distribution of the game assets. All computers are part of the processing cloud.
“The more players that are connected,” Joe said, “the better the game runs, the more data we can put out.”
From the starting point, players are shown what almost looks like old fashioned drive in movie screens, each representing a player- or developer-created game to share. This is where Xulu really shines. Players are given access to a robust and fairly detailed set of builder tools that include the ability to create just about any type of environment desired. Builders can make games or social gathering spots or even medieval castles complete with quests and monsters to fight. The sky is the limit and the tools are as simple or as complex as a builder has skills to support. In fact, what the team is hoping is that professionals will take advantage of the tools to not only create content but also behavioral pieces or music or anything they can think of. In addition, builders can collaboratively share venues with others to work together in its creation.
Watching Nancy and Joe work the Venue Builder tools was educational and it was abundantly clear that there is plenty of power in them for game designers and yet they are simultaneously simple enough even for novice users. There is a WYSIWYG type interface where components can be dragged and dropped right onto the map. For instance, in the architecture panel, I noticed that builders can choose from components as varied as buildings, ruins, villages or walls. All can be placed, turned, resized and more. There are even components that have dynamic movement attached. A suspension bridge with tires on it was placed onto a racetrack. Using the “verify” button, we were able to check to make sure that the bridge was moving as expected and what the tires would do in response. It was really awesome!
Once a game or social area is finished, builders can submit the venues for approval for general distribution to all players. The team is hoping the approval process will take hours, not days. But similarly, they are committed to the idea that this is a cross-generational game for all ages and are planning to put safeguards in place to ensure that content is appropriate for all users. To do so, the team is tossing around the idea of player-reviewers who will check content before sending it out to the general public.
Those who fear censorship should not be alarmed. Even if a project has been submitted for approval, builders can still share their work with friends or guild mates or anyone else by turning their local machine into a server and hosting the venue. Think LAN play here, another place that Xulu Universe shines. These privately hosted venues can be played instantly while awaiting approval for general distribution or simply shared locally without ever submitting the work.
While I was in game, we took a look at several different types of venues that had been created by both players and by the dev team. We played a cannon shooting skee ball game, drove most excellently rendered buggies around a wicked race course, flew through rings in a bubble-like air ship and participated in buggy-based capture the flag matches. As the population grows, so too will the types and varieties of venues created.
“We want the power in the players’ hands.” Nancy said.
Part of that power will be the fact that Xulu Universe will be completely free to play. Players will have access to the tools and to the game in its entirety though there will be a cash shop for cosmetic items such as avatar costumes. Joe said that they want players to be able to look like anything they can imagine. Many costume components will be able to be found in game or by winning at venue games and some will be able to be purchased in the shop.
For a game in early and open alpha testing, I was very impressed not only by the quality of the game itself but also by the builder tools as well. The team is looking for players to help them work out some of the game’s bugs and they are actively seeking folks to make suggestions on what they would like to see in Xulu Universe.
Interested players should definitely check out Xulu Universe, particularly those with a creative bent. Sign up for the open alpha and help the team get ready for a 2013 launch! You can find out more about Xulu Universe on their site.
What about you? Have you tried Xulu Universe? What did you think? If you haven’t, does it sound intriguing? Let us know in the comments!