The MMO-space has been intrinsically linked with the sci-fi genre since its inception. The stories of the stars has influenced game developers for decades, and the team at Edinburgh, Scotland-based Carbon Based Lifeforms is no different. Today the studio lifted the veil a bit on their upcoming title, Hyperspace, which sees players explore a sandbox sci-fi universe that draws from some of the golden-age of sci-fi.
Hyperspace's hook is simple: the MMO is set in a world where two galaxies merged after an experiment to create a stable wormhole between the two failed catastrophically. Now the galaxies have been merged for eons, with power blocs set up across the territory. Players can forge their path, choosing how they want to play, such as an intrepid bounty hunter or a sought-after craftsman, or even an explorer adept at charting the stars. Carbon Based Lifeforms has created a universe with eight playable races for players to choose from, each with their own backstories, lore and history to explore.
Hyperspace is billed as a "free-to-play-and-earn" title, allowing players to trade real money for assets they create in the MMO. According to the press release by the studio, the team is "on a mission to redfine the play-and-earn industry." We were able to chat with CEO Theo Priestley via email about this concept, how it's going to be implemented in the MMO, and more about the game itself.
MMORPG.com: So, right off the bat the big question mark for myself and many others I would assume: Play to earn. With the way gamers and more have reacted to systems in games that try to inject this type of model, how do you see it working in Hyperspace: NFTs, blockchain or other cryptocurrency being injected into the experience? How will you balance this with regular gameplay, and with as negatively gamers seem to react to anything P2E related, is this something the studio is willing to budge on or revisit should the pushback be great enough?
Theo: Firstly, we can set some of the record straight here – we’re not play-to-earn, we’re free-to-play-and-earn, it’s a subtle difference but it’s worlds apart from where the current gamut of crypto/ blockchain games are right now. Many, if not all, P2E games involve having to buy your way in via a token which drives the studio revenue model. They also invariably involve some kind of NFT based reward mechanism that’s tied to the value of the token, usually dropped or controlled by the developer.
As the value of the token and NFTs increase it reduces the ability for everyone to enjoy the game and becomes only for those who can afford to play. Four years ago, when this game was originally conceived I recognized these patterns when ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings) were used to crowdfund new games linked to a coin (in essence, a token) – gameplay design was directly linked to the value of the token and therefore was a secondary consideration, and subject to speculative investors with no interest in the game itself too.
By removing the token from the equation you’re instantly left with a game first and foremost, with the option to engage in any of the play-and-earn aspects. We’ve spent a long time looking at the design and mechanics of play to the point that we’re confident this is how the industry moves forward and the negative reactions can be answered. At the end of the day, open and virtual worlds like Entropia Universe or Second Life have operated with an earning potential for years. It’s only the recent association with NFTs and how they’ve been implemented (badly in some cases) that has caused such a reaction.
Hyperspace is described as the “first token-free and chain-agnostic free-to-play-and-earn metaverse game.” A mouthful, for sure, lol. Can you break that down in layman’s terms for those who may be more interested in learning how this type of model might work?
Theo: See above lol for some context, but also in terms of “chain-agnostic” we have built Metanomic (Metanomic.net), which is a real-time game economy and design platform for the game to run on. In essence, all player-driven economies, activities and the crafting of new in-game items are kept within game logic – whereas most P2E games use blockchain up front for the ‘minting’ of a new item and therefore has a much larger environmental impact. The other reason for building this, aside from the fact there really wasn’t anything else as a developer tool to handle this, is that the economic design protects the game and players from “tokenomics” – e.g. inflation and speculation of the value of the token.
We’re making the platform available to traditional game developers as well as metaverse or P2E game studios who want to build and balance their game economies in real-time, and for those who don’t want to worry about the typical external forces that affect a game built with a token.
Will the RMT influence the regular economy? If so, how do you balance this with those who choose to not take part in the P2E economy?
Theo: Players influence the economy. That’s it. That’s all you need. As a sandbox MMO you should let the gamers shape the universe they’re in and how they want to build in it. Where we differ from usual P2E games is that if a player crafts a new in-game item they can opt to sell it to another player on a player-to-player in-game marketplace for real monetary value. After all, why wouldn’t you want to be compensated for spending time in a game and learning all the systems necessary to build something unique. It’s no different from say, the blueprint system in EvE Online or crafting in Star Wars: Galaxies, both fairly free-form in terms of being able to create something with variable outcomes and stats. Learn the systems better than the next player and your items have better use or stronger stats for example. But that’s the choice – you can either use it yourself and enjoy the benefit or sell it to someone else to use. You’re basically inviting the same kind of corporations and guilds that have existed across MMOs for decades but this time allowing for a real financial reward. Again, no different to someone carving a living out of Second Life. And there’s no monkey JPEG in sight.
Sci-fi MMO that blends the best of 70s-era sci-fi TV sounds incredibly interesting, especially as a major sci-fi nerd myself. What are some of the influences on Hyperspace?
Theo: I’m a child of the 70s, I grew up with old school sci-fi books and tv shows. My major influences were always tied to the vibrant colours and weird looking spaceships from books like The Terran Trade Authority, the covers of Analog, artists like Chris Foss, John Berkey, Syd Mead, Ralph McQuarrie.
Coupled that with the epic and cheesy films the 70s and 80s, like Silent Running, Wrath of Khan, Logan’s Run, Battle Beyond the Stars, cartoons like Ulysses 31 and clearly another smaller and relatively unknown franchise called Star Wars…in fact, the phrase Lucas coined – used universe – stuck with me and that’s the kind of aesthetic I wanted, something that felt very lived in. The Mandalorian captures that perfectly but when you add in the 70s style spaceships things get even more interesting. A lot of the games today are either very utilitarian or clean and symmetrical in design, which is typically tied to the backdrop of humanity romping around the Milky Way or deeply tied to physics so your design thinking is limited to what a spaceship would look like if a human designed it. Setting this game somewhere else with multiple alien races that players can choose from frees up design to be as weird or wonderful as you can imagine. I think No Man’s Sky did a cracking job at this.
I really dig the hook: the galaxies merging thanks to a wormhole went wrong. Can players expect to see some weirdness or anomalies that linger even these eons later due to the merger?
Theo: Absolutely. I’m fascinated by galactic mergers and the ones that Hubble has captured really fire up the imagination so I began to think about what would happen if this was forced as the result of an artificial event? Some eagle-eyed gamers will recognize the galactic backdrop we’ve chosen, and its actual formation is suitably still a mystery that allows us to play with it as the crux of our own story and lore. We have a fantastic set of science advisors helping us out too so there’s a good dose of astrophysics, cosmology and astrobiology to help us create some interesting regions in space where normal physics won’t apply, and galactic-sized forces are still at work - as well as create the background to each of the races a player can choose from. Of course, there’s a whole lot of fiction as well as science so again we’re free to take up a bit of creative license when applying the scientific principles.
How will the narrative impact the sandbox design? Is the narrative something players will need to interact with, or can they simply forge their own path?
Theo: I’m very mindful that with open games the narrative takes a backseat. For some it’s a perfect set up if the game design is wholly player-driven, like EvE. For others the gaps are really apparent, like Elite Dangerous, where the community has complained constantly about the lack of any real content to drive players forward. I wanted a balance - where players are free to chart their own path or career, alone or with others, build corporations and guilds, create their own narrative that shapes the galaxy, but also give them the option to enjoy a lot of the story that created the galaxy and its inhabitants and some of the mysteries out there still to be found.
Missions have always felt like a tagged-on affair, simply, meet this NPC and do these missions to learn more, but we want to create something a little deeper. We’re playing around with machine learning for NPC behaviour for example, locations that the player has visited may trigger ‘memories’ for NPC crew members or be a reminder of something the Player heard before and the rich lore that surrounds the game will also lead to the books that we’re currently in talks with several science fiction authors to pen that will expand on the game further.
Should a Player not be so bothered about the narrative, it doesn’t limit their play at all, but I’ve always maintained that if you want to build a sandbox you at least have to have a little sand.
The way the game is described in the release, it feels like an EVE or Elite Dangerous style of game – flying around the galaxy, hunting, mining, trading and more. In terms of gameplay style, where with those two MMOs would you say Hyperspace leans more towards? Are we going to be able to get out of the ship and explore planets, stations and more, or are we going to see the next evolution of the top-down presentation that evokes closer to EVE?
Theo: EVE is very much an inspiration for us, especially how the open, player-driven economy is the perfect model to build a play-and-earn game from. The depth that allows is almost infinite and we’ve all read the stories that have spun out from there wholly created from player interaction. I have the two volumes of Empires of EVE and I’m fascinated by it. We considered other gameplay styles like Elite Dangerous, or Star Citizen but they are huge in scope, and I wanted to aim for something that is achievable. However, we are already planning for a Phase 2, the gameplay design and systems, UI, they’ve all been approached in a modular way so they could be reused in a different context.
We’re not planning on planetary landings and exploration for release but that’s not to say we’re not exploring how to implement it in a way that fits with the current design and play style. I know which game’s inspiration we’re going to draw from and that’s what excites me already about future expansion.
Tell us a bit about the different races you can choose from and what differentiates them from each other? Are there going to be races that are better at gathering or trading for example, or is it just a baseline for players to build upon?
Theo: There are eight starting species, and they range from the Narank, a nanite species who don’t get on with others of their own kind, to the big hulking Carbaryl, whose planet was ripped apart in the galactic cataclysm which forged the previous galaxies together. We also have the religious Sodaylo, the spiritual Torlain and others, who form the rich tapestry of our galaxy and whose backgrounds are unique, stimulating and waiting to be uncovered. Whilst each of these species has some advantages in certain skill sets at the start of the game, these can be followed, or ignored, at the players whim and the relationships they make with the NPC’s they meet, and with the other Players in the game, will be a much greater part of the gameplay they experience. This also sets us up for planning with Phase 2!
All the species have their own lore, and that filters right down into the ship design, interiors, and the soundtrack and sound design. It was important to convey not only how the races look themselves but how they appear and sound as an entire culture.
Is this a PvP, PvE focused title? If it has the former, how will that be implemented? How punishing will it be? And if there is PvP, will players be able to go to war, hold territory and influence the politics of the universe?
Theo: We’re building a galaxy where in the lore and backdrop has just exited the long and brutal Nomad Wars and now four Economic Territories vie for control.
The Players can remain neutral or gain a high status with one of these territories, merge into guilds, which we call ORGS and even ORGS can merge into Syndicates. With each Economic Territory having a political system that members can vote upon, the Players can use the power of their ORGS and Block Votes, to change the flow of the galaxy.
We expect this to build into conflicts and vendettas, and Hyperspace will be more than ready to watch the tensions rise and launch into fully fledged wars. Again, a lot of the inspiration of how this could evolve naturally came from understanding how players interact with a complex economy. We’ve also introduced more than one galactic currency, a bit like the real world, where exchange rates and arbitrage can give way to conflict and trade agreements. It’s going to be interesting to see how players interact or form around building their own empires and where they do it.
You mention that you’re tabbing several high-profile sci-fi writers, can you pull the curtain back and tease/reveal any of them players might know?
Theo: If you’ve watched movies from certain franchises and read their comics or book tie-ins that expand their universes then you’ll recognize the names. Until the contractuals are sorted though we’re keeping tight lipped for now. It was important for me to do a lot of advance work in the background and think ahead, it’s a new IP with massive depth to draw from and I want to give players who like this sort of thing the chance to enjoy more content, perhaps even visit locations in these books for real within the game itself.
How many systems are you planning on having in the universe? Is this something that will be ever expanding, or a locked number of systems players can visit? Are these being built by hand or are you going to be using any procedural generation to create these systems (Like NMS, for example?)
Theo: There’ll be 10,000 systems in the game, mostly procedurally generated but where the narrative intertwines with the open gameplay we’ll be developing those areas by hand. I wanted something that felt big enough for players to wander off and explore but not as big as Elite or No Man’s Sky where you’d never meet another player out in the black because of the sheer size. I drew a lot of inspiration from how Star Wars mapped out its own galaxy, trade routes, territories and so forth.
I don’t particularly believe in locked systems and I’m definitely not interested in making any content a paid for option, exploration should be a natural path or choice for the player. One of the things I really believe in though is not having a galactic map fully realized or charted, and how the galaxy was formed is a perfect reason for this. We differ from something like Elite Dangerous where a player can move across the galaxy by having the computer chart the course. For Hyperspace I wanted to introduce a little more depth, exploration can be as dangerous as it was for Columbus – you can explore a new region and scout out new routes, potentially selling those maps to other players or orgs because there’s some new mining opportunities, or basically keep it a secret for yourself. Or you could set a trap and sell a bogus trade route that leads straight to your own pirate faction. I want to see what players do with this freedom.
Will there be factions, both NPC and player made, that players can form and join?
Theo: Yes, see above answers. We have the Economic Territories, Criminal Fraternities, the player organizations, ORGS and Syndicates we mentioned before and there is just the common grouping you’d expect in MMO’s of this kind. With Professional Academies, which allow the Player to follow specific paths within the game, the options are huge for the Player who wants to take them.
With the Gatherer class, it seems like this will be what gathers crafting materials. What kinds of object will players be able to create? Do you envision everything on the marketplace as well being player created (like we see with EVE for the most part?)
Theo: A Gatherer is basically a Miner, what we tried to do is come up with a new term that disassociates it from the crypto term that implies some sort of cryptocurrency mining so as not to confuse new players or put them off. Players can create anything, we’re building systems that allow for the combination of raw materials and resources to spawn something new, or for players to reverse engineer an existing item and improve upon it or change it up by using different combinations. This, we believe, will be the beating heart of the play-and-earn economy side – as a developer we don’t want to be introducing new items because then that turns the game into a pay-to-win scenario. Players can set the prices themselves, whole industries could spin up as a result. Again, a lot of inspiration for player economies and crafting systems came from existing and older games like SWG but seem to be missing from newer titles in many respects.
The whole crafting process is completed at a Forge, and there is one in each Economic Territory as well as one located in Neutral Space. These are where the components are finally built and the Rank of the Component is decided, based on the quality of the items you use to build them. With seven different qualities and up to six inputs for any component in the Forge, you’ll already have an idea about the variety at hand to the Player and the crafting process will also give a serial number which will identify the quality and level of any components to other Players.
Those who want to Play and Earn can then sell these items on the Marketplace and clearly, the rarer the components the more valuable they will become.
While often components are just new lasers and scanners, the Player can also forge ships and facilities in exactly the same way.
The release mentions that Hyperspace “hosts plenty of options of progression.” How does leveling up your character work? Is it going to be the traditional experience model, or will we see something akin to skill books and real-time determining when you’ve learned the skill (Like EVE or Mortal Online)?
Theo: There’s more than one way the Player can progress and the skills they initially start with will grow with use, as they gain a finer understanding of their ships and components. As with any MMO as the skills rise the time taken to push them higher will be longer, so we have other options for the Player to follow.
Firstly, there’s Research, which allows the Player to learn more about a specific skill set and this in turn allows them to craft items of a higher level. The Research Tree will become more complex as the Player increases their level, but the benefits will be greater. The Player also has the option to redo a Research level to sell a training manual to those who are more interested in other styles of play.
Secondly there’s the Professions, which allow the Player to become adept in a specific path and hone the skills of that style of work, be it archaeologist or assassin, the choices can truly affect the Players path and the associations they have with other members of their Profession.
Thirdly, there’s the associations with the Economic Territories and Criminal Fraternities the Players can gain, which add further benefits to their play and of course…
Fourthly, the Player ORGS, which can affect all the above, and have that benefit of being part of a larger group and the safety that provides.
Lastly, we’re introducing this to NPCs too. I don’t see why players should have all the fun.
Again, the gameplay designs are being developed in a way that will fit our longer-term vision and it’s really going to push the limits of what you can do with this genre, especially with play-and-earn. I’m confident we could be seen as an example of a game and studio that got it right for the players.
Are players locked into a style of gameplay based on the chosen class, or can an explorer excel at bounty hunting or become a high-level trader on the market, for example?
Theo: As you can probably tell, the classes are much more like Archetypes (our proper name for them, which is harder to explain in a simple press release).These Archetypes are based on the ships available to the Player and not on the Player themselves. Hunters are built for pure combat; Gatherers are the slowest, but with huge hold space, Traders have ships ready to escape3 from pirate attacks and the Explorers have robust ships which bristle with scanners.
While these Archetypes are how the ships start, the Players can add and remove a variety of components from the hull, balancing the ships energy and computing power to get exactly the type of ship that suits their play style. Much like in real life, you can begin a career in one industry and end up in another but you take those skills and experiences with you.
With the announcement today, it’s obviously early stages. But when can players expect to learn more, and will there be playable alphas and more to take part in throughout development?
Theo: It is still early days, but our Community Team is ready to go and tease Players with new pieces of art, snippets of lore and even more about the game design and play. Ideally, we’d like everyone to sign up at our website to keep tabs on development, and to join our Discord server, where we’ll be very active throughout the process.
We like to know what the Players think about not only our answers here but moving into the future and we’ll make sure that there are regular opportunities for the Players to get a chance to talk directly to the team about what we’re doing.
Community is key in a game of this type. Because of the scale of the game itself we’re aiming for early access in 2025, and the community team are already looking at how to bring some of the more engaged members into testing to help us shape the game to be as good as it can be for a full launch. We’ll try to be as open and honest about the roadmap as possible. For now, we’re building a vertical slice which will allow us to secure the remainder of the funding to deliver what we set out to achieve.