Checking in with Novaquark’s Ambitious Space Sandbox
Since its successful Kickstarter, Novaquark has been hard at work on bringing their epic sandbox MMO Dual Universe to life. The single-shard massive universe is a huge undertaking, and we caught up with Jean Christophe-Baillie, Founder of Novaquark to see how far along they are and what’s coming next.
MMORPG: How has the project progressed since you had your successful Kickstarter?
Jean Christophe-Baillie: We've been so busy... the Kickstarter campaign has been a roller-coaster ride! This success has been possible thanks to the challenging work our team has put in since Novaquark was founded in 2014. After the end of the campaign, in October 2016, we knew we had achieved a crucial step, but we still had a long way to go in completing our vision and roadmap. Thanks to the funding from our amazing community, we could demonstrate that a lot of gamers want a new breed of MMO. In consequence, our investors are now more eager than ever to support us, as we recently announced with our latest private fundraising. This can give us the means to accelerate production. We need more people to join Novaquark to make this game happen. We recently completed hirings in the programming, art, server and customer support parts and are still recruiting. In consequence, a huge amount of work has been invested these past few months to improve tools (for the developers and the players as well), visual feedback on players' actions, single-shard server scaling, graphical rendering, procedural generation and biomes, stability and general performance, art, UX and UI, the first time user experience and of course bug squashing. The list goes on and on. We inform our community every month on our progress via our DevDiary update series on our YouTube channel. With Dual Universe, what we want to build is very ambitious and each aspect of the game takes time to develop to meet the standards we have in mind. We currently test many things via playtesting and quality assurance to try to deliver an experience as satisfying as possible for our upcoming first access in September.
MMORPG: In a recent video, you mentioned planets are procedurally generated from an algorithm. Are new planets being made once the game goes live? Can players push the boundaries of the universe and make it expand?
JCB: We plan to generate a vast number of planets and satellites that players will be able to discover and explore in a coherent manner. Everything is procedurally generated via algorithms, so we can easily add new planets. The set of existing planets will be limited in the beginning, but it will match the exploration capabilities of the players. You first have space ships, then faster spaceships, then warp drives, then Stargates. This will take many years. Also, launching probes to deploy Stargates will be a very long and costly process, so you will need to think hard before “investing” into a deployment somewhere. Even if the universe will be almost infinite (we still plan on a limited galaxy, albeit very large), the size of the practically explored/visited universe will grow slowly according to the player’s progression in the game. We don’t want players to be able to instantly teleport anywhere in a galaxy of billions of planets, because then every time you arrive on a new planet, it’s almost always empty. We want the community to build up the content of planets one by one and expand wisely, but with no hard limit.
We're still fine-tuning things but the game will evolve through Pre-Alpha, several Alphas, several Betas and the official release. Community feedback will play a crucial part here. What we aim is to create content that will take years for players to discover completely and enjoy. At some point, we'll release extensions bringing more possibilities (for example, the Stargates) and it will be free. The monthly subscription fee aside, no extra costs will be required to enjoy Dual Universe. Systems will be huge. Players will be able to push the boundaries of gaming via the emergent components of the game, since it's a sandbox MMO and it's designed for that. But they won't technically "expand" the game itself, like you don't really "expand" Minecraft nor EVE Online.
However, they'll be able to fill this vast universe with their crazy ideas. Building possibilities are insane in Dual Universe. The tools are far more advanced than what you have seen so far, to our knowledge. Combined to the power of Lua scripting for your constructs, you'll be able to design space ships or buildings that will be "alive" and full of customized features. This is unprecedented, and filling the world in might be even more enjoyable than strictly exploring. Exploration will have a very important role in the game nonetheless, if you're into that. Without wanting to promise everything. there's no such things as a “class” in Dual Universe and you'll be able to perform many roles and actions with your friends without being reduced to a specific class.. Your actions and behavior, coupled with the skill system we have in mind will allow you to become whatever you want in-game.
So if you want to be a space explorer and try to find "the end of the universe", you'll be able to try this out. But it will take a lot of time. Like, many years! Building stargates will be possible to shorten the space travels at some point but collecting the required materials will take time, patience, collaboration and planning. That's where Organizations (our guild equivalents) will be crucial. And since resources won't be infinite (planetary exploration will be key here too), conflicts may arise and politics, diplomacy, cunning and warfare should play an important part after official release. So game content will expand via Novaquark's work and gameplay possibilities will too, thanks to players’ efforts. It's not necessarily linked. And in this part, we kind of imagine what they might do, but nobody knows for sure. The odds are totally open and we know one thing for sure: players will constantly surprise us.
MMORPG: I've seen a couple of videos that mention emergent game play but all I see is building. What's happening around the Universe to push the story?
JCB: The game is huge to develop so we proceed step by step. Building is an essential part, so for a long time our efforts have been focused on it. We'll then expand the possibilities with scanning, mining, crafting, economy, territories, organizations... we have a clear roadmap. Concerning what will happen, well, we have a premise and some lore for context but the players will be the real authors. Earth has been destroyed and colossal Arkships have been sent with chosen people to colonize planets where civilization will be rebuilt. What will the members of this kind of colonists do? Will they act like we used to on Earth? Will they learn from the mistakes of the past and do things differently? They'll chose... This is their story.
MMORPG: Where is the conflict that will drive players to do more? Are they split up into factions, different races, will there be scarcity issues with resources?
JCB: When more features will have been implemented, we'll have a complete in-game economy. In short, think about EVE Online. Combined with resources scarcity, you'll have a complete offer and demand system in place. So accomplishing your personal agenda or your Organization's one will be tied to what you're able to collect, buy, sell, the services you'll provide to other players... it will be up to you. And with that comes conflict. The path to resolve the thousands of conflicts that will occur will be up to players imagination and roleplay. Peaceful negotiation in bartering? buying? stealing? Merciless raids to take what you want because you can? You won't have any good or bad alignment imposed, nor classes nor factions. Your choices and actions will tell who you are. That's a lot of shades of grey to explore between black and white and we think Dual Universe brings something new here, because of it’s scale and content creation aspect.
MMORPG: Why do you think Dual Universe will succeed where other big name voxel builders recently have failed?
JCB: Dual Universe is so much more than a building game. When the game will be complete for the official release, that will only be the beginning of the journey. Building is just one component of the game. It will probably appeal to Space Engineers or Everquest: Landmark fans but it's so much more... This being said, we deployed lots of efforts to build a game that allows more possibilities to builders than what they are used to. We have lots of tools to edit, copy, cut, paste, mirror, undo/redo... this is new and will probably be really enjoyable for people into designing and building ships and buildings. Later, you'll be able to build with your friends in multiplayer mode. Combined with our proprietary voxel engine that provides a visually rewarding result for your creations and the Lua scripting possibilities for animating and illuminating your constructs, we think we bring a strong proposition to the MMO gaming market.
But more importantly, and this changes everything, Dual Universe is a real single-shard MMO. Everyone plays in the same world at the same time. There is only one central server for all players to connect to. You are not in a small isolated island or instance. Everything you do, or build, will matter for everyone else. There is a sense of collective history and even if you play solo, you know that you are part of something bigger, that is meant to last. This is a world to shape, at a scale that has never been achieved before, and I think it can appeal to a large set of players who have never played any other title yet, because they were looking for this level of immersion and sense of “reality” that we try to bring.
MMORPG: How do you make a massive game like this approachable for the average gamer, but in depth enough for the hardcore folks?
JCB: It's a challenge. We currently working on several solutions in terms of tutorial and first time user experience. Playtests are important here. In-game possibilites are so numerous that the game's learning curve must be approached with care. Hardcore doesn't mean the game must be punishing by essence to the players. We recently hired more people to refine the global UX and UI parts to make sure the game is not hostile to newcomers but provides enough information to be quickly and efficiently on-board and have fun. Complex, deep, interesting but not daunting is our task here. We don't have all the solutions yet, it's still work in progress. Our community will also be of a huge help here, once the Alpha will be available. It's a constant dialog and we know that our players will help us refining everything along the way.