Dual Universe has so much promise and potential, I went to see it twice. Fortunately I am not going for a lowbrow joke here, over the course of Gamescom I first sat down with Ludovic Serny, the Community & Social Media manager at Novaquark. A day or so later there was the chance to sit down and chat with Jean-Christophe Baillie, President at Novaquark.
What is it?
Dual Universe in very broad strokes is the sort of game you get if you put EVE Online in a blender with Space Engineers and a squeeze of No Mans Sky to taste. It is an attempt at, as they call it, a boundless MMORPG.. Specifically if you want a thousand people in one spot? Go for it. If you want a city with ten thousand people? Gather them all up. They want to do away with zones and boundaries. Of course being on the realistic end of the scale for science fiction, within reason, there will be other planets for people to spread to and spread out. Space, after all, is infinite.
Ludovic and I chatted about the technology behind Dual Universe and the odd origins of the engine powering this bold game idea. Novaquark have gone with a Russian engine to power Dual Universe called Unigine. This decision was taken due to other engines having some trouble with planetary simulation on the scale that Novaquark wanted. After all you want your worlds to behave like proper oblate spheroids as they go about their business and gravity to constantly remember which way is down. Add to that the voxel technology they're using and you get a very real world for want of a better term. Sure outside our doors people can't scoop perfect spheres out of the landscape with a gesture but we don't have spaceships either so let's not quibble.
Planets are boring. They just careen around stars at huge velocities which themselves are blundering through the interstellar neighbourhood. What we really want are internet spaceships and Dual Universe will be delivering on those. Players can craft their own ships and those ships can get quite impressive in size. The idea is that pretty much everything will be built by players, cities, stations, all of it.
You built using components from a library and materials gathered out in the world, all arranged around a core unit. Ships can get as large as you want, or rather as large as you can manage. Of course with bigger ships comes the issue of control. In this players can band together to crew ships and operate the various systems.
It's not a universe though if you're confined to one planet. Here, when I was talking to Jean-Christophe, is when I really started to get excited about the potential for Dual Universe. Don't get me wrong, I got to see very impressive things in the demo. The day and night cycle works wonderfully, though it's better when a dev does it and casually tosses the star around the planet to show you night and day. Moving from the orbital station down to the planet and back was fun.
This is space however, the final frontier. It'll only be a universe if you push out into the stars and there once again there are building opportunities in two directions. You can be sensible and band together with players and work together to build a jump gate to get from one star system to another in an instant.
Alternatively, if you're crazy or adventurous, you can try build and stock up a ship and make the trip the slow-ish way from star to star through regular space.
Comparisons to EVE aren't limited to just regarding the proposed in game economy. There's fighting in the sandbox future if you want to engage in it. Ships blowing up ships is fun enough, we've entire series based around that idea. Instead there's an opportunity here to not just blow up other ships but to try and board them, burrowing into the hulls to try and claim your prize. The game is still in early alpha, so don't expect sudden bouts of space piracy when you try it out. As with everything in a game based on building, especially on the scales they can manage, these things will only come together as fast as people build them.
If you aren't the building type, you dont have to worry too much. People will be able to craft that dream interplanteary hotrod for you and hand it over. If you are the building type as other games like Space Engineers seems to attract, there's an awful lot of fun to be had in Dual Universe. Finally if you aren't just into building in games but fancy trying your hand at scripting, players can craft LUA scripts to use in the game to automate operations and help out with things like flying that monstrosity of a ship you dreamed up and carved out of God knows what.
The enthusiasm of the team was infectious but so was the potential sitting in Dual Universe. There's a decent bit of the MMORPG genre riding on the idea of voxels and sandboxy approaches. With any luck, space won't be the final frontier this time but a huge vista for the genre and a triumph for Novaquark.