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MMORPG | Setting:Sci-Fi | Status:Development  (est.rel 2020)  | Pub:Novaquark
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Dual Universe's Blank Canvas Is Full Of Player Possibilities

By Joseph Bradford on September 23, 2019 | Previews | Comments

Dual Universe's Blank Canvas Is Full Of Player Possibilities

Standing over a player created city in Dual Universe, the potential feels endless. Roads, buildings, markets, industry – all these elements are present in a demo city with developer Novaquark as the sci-fi MMO dev showed off some of the Alpha 2 features last week. In an hour-long demo, multiple features were showcased, showing off the sandbox MMO in development.


For the uninitiated, Dual Universe is a sandbox MMO Kickstarted back in 2016 and is currently in development by French studio Novaquark. Having recently released its Alpha 2 back in July, adding a bunch new feature to the MMO. The world in front me was a blank canvas, just waiting for players to start creating a new civilization upon its shores.

Dual Universe is what happens when you mix Minecraft with EVE Online – you have the building and terrain manipulation of Minecraft, but the MMO is meant to be one hundred percent player driven. This means everything from player-created cities, alliances, and economy, wars and so on. The building shown off in our demo were created by players themselves, the only aspects of them that were developer-made were the decorations making each structure feel whole.

From office buildings to a fully functioning marketplace, players run it all. And that’s what makes Dual Universe so intriguing to me. Oftentimes we hear the phrase in gaming “anything you can see you can go to,” but how often do we hear “anything you see you can alter?” Dual Universe is entirely voxel based, meaning every aspect of it, whether it be a building a player constructed or a mountain across a valley can be edited using Universe’s tools. You can level whole mountain ranges or dig to the center of a planet, or build a structure visible from space to welcome visiting players -  the choice is ultimately up to you and your imagination.

In our demo, Oliver Derache and Frederic Samier, walked me through the Alpha features showcasing exactly what Dual Universe is about. The tools given to players are robust – everything from building a city, leveling a mountain or creating a hovercraft to galivant around your chosen planet are built using these voxel tools.

Piloting is fully physics based, meaning that if your ship design isn’t all that optimized for flying (in our demo Frederic created a ball of matter, slapped a fuel tank and engine on it and called it a “ship” as an example) it likely won’t fly well. Additionally, since ships are all influenced by the physics of the world, a heavier ship will take longer to move versus a lighter craft.

Flying itself didn’t look that easy – Frederic was all over the place as he drove a hovercraft down a ridge into the demo city, bouncing down the mountain itself as he went.  This is by design – the team did not want the piloting too casual. It’s a skill that players will have to hone over time – and in some ways could become a commodity unto itself.  Make a name for yourself as a pilot and people might be hiring you to truck space goods, fly patrols or even transport other players between social hubs.

We stopped in front of a large office building where Frederic was eager to prove that it wasn’t a pre-rendered 3D model, but rather fully created using the building system that manipulates the voxels in the world. Once there were two large circular chunks removed from the world, he took me inside showcasing the skills of the player who built this. The building was full of furniture, lights and more that it felt like it truly belonged in the city – it felt like every office building I’ve ever worked within. While the building itself may have been fully custom created, the furniture and fixtures were 3D models created by the development team for players to use. The lights were something the team wanted to show off specifically to showcase the linking system within Dual Universe.

Each light was controlled by a switch, which was linked to the light itself. Without the link, the light doesn’t turn on or off. This actually felt like the redstone currents I used to create in Minecraft – you can link multiple items in a chain as well to control more complex use cases. It’s pretty robust – players are already creating their own Portal or Talos Principle-esque puzzles within Dual Universe thanks to this linking system.

Speaking of creating games within a game, Dual Universe also allows players to use custom Lua script in terminals within the game itself. During our demo, Frederic went to a console within the office building and started to play a version of Breakout right there within Dual Universe. This adds an extra layer of detail to those players who know scripting and want to have a little bit of fun within the game – but it can also be used for more than just creating old video games. Later on in an industrial warehouse where multiple chains of industry were set up, a Lua script ran on a screen nearby showing the different zones in the chain that were active and inactive at any moment, in real time. This type of script could be sold on Dual Universe’s marketplace, giving players who have this real-world skill another avenue to create revenue within Dual Universe’s player economy.

 

Alpha 2 brought with it “factory gameplay,” or a way to automate the crafting system within Dual Universe. The basic factory chain is one container with the input material, for example iron ore; a refinery which takes the input material and…well, refines it into a more advanced form of the material; and the output container which contains the result of the refinery. Thanks to the linking system, though, you can create a full supply chain by using the previous chain’s output container as the new input container of another refining process. This system can automate itself so long as you have the materials needed in the input containers. This is where the Lua board came into play – we could monitor the supply chain in real time and see which portions of the chain were working and which were idle. This is a quick way to see how to best automate the process and create the most material to either use for your own crafting purposes or bring to market.

However, it’s not going to get to the market by itself. Frederic mentioned that they expect a full subset of players to essentially become “space truckers.” As part of their role in the Dual Universe society, they would be responsible for taking materials to each port of sale. However, you laden down a freighter with a ton of material, the things going to fly slow. On a PvP enabled area (which the team says is coming down the road), that freighter is rife for attacks by opposing factions or players just looking to make a quick buck. I can see it now – mercenaries could be hired  to fly patrol and escort these space truckers to get their cargo safely to port. That level of player agency, of player control over the experience they have is is incredibly enticing. The idea that players would need a CAP to escort iron ore safely from one planet to the next and it’s something that could sprout up organically – not because Dual Universe is mandating it makes the experience one that I really want to be a part of personally.

Every feature the team showcased in the demo was in the game currently – except for the last bit. A space station was erected in orbit above out planet to showcase both just how robust the voxel crafting truly is: The space station is fully made the same way players will have to create it, so the team essentially created a 2-kilometer-long voxel structure in space. Players won’t be able to create the giant circular station I witnessed off the bat as the team wants to ensure that when they introduce stations to the game that they don’t accidentally break it by allowing them to be too big from the start.

Parked on the station were a few more examples of player-made ships: some clearly combat ready and waiting for PvP, while another looked like it was meant to emulate a lived-In ship, right down to the toilets (though they don’t work – Death’s Stranding this is not).

The potential Dual Universe offers is huge. If done correctly it could have an impact on MMOs like no other before it: a fully customizable experience from the literal ground up with the same player agency as EVE Online. However, it’s difficult to tell today how it might fare once it’s released. One thing is certain, as we took a rocket from the space station to the nearest moon, I was already thinking of the many ways I could make Dual Universe my own. While it’s only in its second alpha, I am eager to see more of it as Novaquark starts peeling back the veil more down the road.


Joseph Bradford / Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore
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